Brain Awareness Week

Posted on: 12 March 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Brain Awareness Week is an annual celebration dedicated to enhancing the public's understanding of why brain research is so important.

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Every March, hundreds of public events to inspire interest in brain research are staged as part of Brain Awareness Week (BAW), to draw attention to what is being accomplished in scientific laboratories, and provide information about the brain that everyone can understand.

BAW is an opportunity to let people know what is being done to diagnose, treat and prevent disorders of the brain, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke, schizophrenia and depression, which affect the lives of millions of people. It is also an opportunity for the general public to learn about brain science from the experts.

BAW is in its fourteenth year and has become a major international effort to communicate the achievements of brain research.

More About Brain Awareness Week

The National Hospital Development Foundation (NHDF) has partnered up with organisations around the world for Brain Awareness Week, an annual campaign to promote the progress and benefits of brain research.

Brain Awareness Week begins on Monday, 16th March and NHDF will be appealing for donations to help create the UK’s first Brain Tumour Unit at The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.

NHDF needs to raise £2.4 million for the creation of the new unit which will transform brain cancer care and provide support and treatment for patients at every stage of the condition, from assessment through to wellness or end of life.

Each year, 5,000 people are diagnosed with primary brain cancers, while 60,000 others develop secondary brain tumours. It affects all ages, from newborn to elderly, and survival rates are extremely low: less than 15% survive beyond five years compared to a 50% survival rate for people with other types of cancer.

Learn About Your Brain

The brain is the most complex part of the human body. This three-pound organ is the seat of intelligence, interpreter of the senses, initiator of body movement, and controller of behavior. Lying in its bony shell and washed by protective fluid, the brain is the source of all the qualities that define our humanity. The brain is the crown jewel of the human body.

For centuries, scientists and philosophers have been fascinated by the brain, but until recently they viewed the brain as nearly incomprehensible. Now, however, the brain is beginning to relinquish its secrets. Scientists have learned more about the brain in the last 10 years than in all previous centuries because of the accelerating pace of research in neurological and behavioral science and the development of new research techniques.

Information, in the form of nerve impulses, travels to and from your brain along your spinal cord. This allows your brain to monitor and regulate unconscious body processes, such as digestion and breathing and to coordinate most voluntary movements of your body. It is also the site of your consciousness, allowing you to think, learn and create.

Your brain is made of many parts, each of which has a specific function. It can be divided into four areas: the cerebrum, the diencephalon, the brain stem and the cerebellum.

Cerebrum

The cerebrum is the largest part of your brain. It sits on top of the rest of your brain, rather like a mushroom cap covering its stalk. It has a heavily folded grey surface, the pattern of which is different from one person to the next. Some of the grooves in its surface mark out different functional regions.

The front section of your cerebrum, the frontal lobe, is involved in speech, thought, emotion, and skilled movements. Behind this is the parietal lobe which perceives and interprets sensations like touch, temperature and pain. Behind this, at the centre back of your cerebrum, is a region called the occipital lobe which detects and interprets visual images. Either side of the cerebrum are the temporal lobes which are involved in hearing and storing memory.

The cerebrum is split down the middle into two halves called hemispheres that communicate with each other.

Cerebellum

Your cerebellum is the second largest part of your brain. It sits underneath the back of your cerebrum and is shown in brown in the diagram above. It is involved in coordinating your muscles to allow precise movements and control of balance and posture.

Diencephalon

Your diencephalon sits beneath the middle of your cerebrum and on top of your brain stem. It contains two important structures called the thalamus and the hypothalamus. Your thalamus acts as a relay station for incoming sensory nerve impulses, sending them on to appropriate regions of your brain for processing. It is responsible for letting your brain know what's happening outside of your body.

Your hypothalamus plays a vital role in keeping conditions inside your body constant. It does this by regulating your body temperature, thirst and hunger, amongst other things. And by controlling the release of hormones from the nearby pituitary gland.

Brain stem

Your brain stem is responsible for regulating many life support mechanisms, such as your heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and breathing. It also regulates when you sleep and wake.

Brain protection

Your brain is arguably your most important organ, but it is made of soft delicate tissue that would be injured by even the slightest pressure. As a result, it is well protected:

Three tough membranes called meninges surround your brain. The space between your brain and the meninges is filled with a clear fluid, which cushions your brain, provides it with energy and protects it against infection. Your skull encases your brain in a bony shell, cerebrospinal fluid and meninges.

Brain Busting Facts

1) The Three-Pound Marvel

Within the human brain are roughly a billion nerve cells, billions more “support” cells, and a hundred trillion or more synaptic connections linking them all together.

2) Don’t Be Fooled by Its Size

The brain accounts for only two percent of our body weight, but consumes 20 percent of the oxygen we breathe and 20 percent of the energy we take in.

3) One Task At A Time

The brain’s capacity for processing more than one task simultaneously is limited. The brain can’t boost its processing power based on how many things we’re trying to do at once.

4) Pulling All-Nighters Not Recommended

Sleeping within 30 hours of new learning seems to be essential; “slow-wave” sleep—a type of non-REM sleep that generally occurs early in the night—is crucial to learning.

5) Physical Fitness Is Part Of Cognitive Fitness

Increasing your level of physical activity is one of the best things you can do for you brain; it can enhance memory and learning, improve mood, and counteract depression. Just a half hour of moderate activity per day will help.

6) Your Brain Needs A Social Life

Studies have shown that being socially connected is one of the fundamental tenants of brain health. Likewise, social isolation is associated with health problems and a shorter lifespan.

7) Wait, What Was That Again?

As we get older, it may take us longer to learn and store new information, so concentration becomes increasingly important. Try to reduce distractions and minimise interferences when learning new information.

Web Links

To learn more about Brain Awareness Week including the progress and benefits of brain research visit the official website at http://www.dana.org/brainweek/.

Individuals can support the Brain Tumour Unit by making a donation to NHDF. Please visit www.uclh.nhs.uk/nhdf to make a donation through Justgiving or telephone 020 7829 8724 for more information. 

Brain Awareness Week was founded and coordinated by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and its sister organisation, the European Dana Alliance for the Brain.

Learn how to boost your mind power as the UK memory champions share their secrets with 50connect here

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