The Old Brain: Wired For Survival
The brain stem is the oldest and innermost region of the brain. Its designed to control the most basic functions of life, including breathing, attention, and motor responses . The brain stem begins where the spinal cord enters the skull and forms the medulla, the area of the brain stem that controls heart rate and breathing. In many cases the medulla alone is sufficient to maintain lifeanimals that have the remainder of their brains above the medulla severed are still able to eat, breathe, and even move. The spherical shape above the medulla is the pons, a structure in the brain stem that helps control the movements of the body, playing a particularly important role in balance and walking.
Running through the medulla and the pons is a long, narrow network of neurons known as the reticular formation. The job of the reticular formation is to filter out some of the stimuli that are coming into the brain from the spinal cord and to relay the remainder of the signals to other areas of the brain. The reticular formation also plays important roles in walking, eating, sexual activity, and sleeping. When electrical stimulation is applied to the reticular formation of an animal, it immediately becomes fully awake, and when the reticular formation is severed from the higher brain regions, the animal falls into a deep coma.
Figure 3.8 The Brain Stem and the Thalamus
Figure 3.9 The Limbic System
How Your Brain Works
Lower animals, such as fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds, don’t do much “thinking,” but instead concern themselves with the everyday business of gathering food, eating, drinking, sleeping, reproducing and defending themselves.
These are instinctual processes . Therefore, their brains are organized along the major centers that control these functions.
We humans perform these functions as well, and so have a “reptilian” brain built into us. That means we have the same parts of the brain found in reptiles, namely the brain stem and the cerebellum.
Ready to learn about the lower brain? We’ll discuss that on the next page.
Brainstem Motor Systems And Peripheral Signaling
Brainstem motor systems control eating behavior and food digestion. The trigeminal, facial, and hypoglossal cranial nuclei in the brainstem are responsible for the chewing and swallowing motor behaviors involved in eating. The dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus contains motoneurons that project to the gut, liver, and pancreas to control gastric motility and secretion. Neurons in the DMX are organized topographically, with descending fiber projections organized in distinct columns that control different parts of the gut. Positive feed-forward information signaling the presence of food in the mouth or stomach is relayed from the gut to cortex, amygdala, and hypothalamus, and then transmitted to the brainstem. The brainstem integrates information and sends efferent signals to initiate chewing and gastric motility when appropriate.
Chronically maintained decerebrate rats, whose caudal brainstem is dissociated from the forebrain, are able to regulate meal size and show similar energetic response to food deprivation as control rats, with both groups showing reduced energy expenditure and respiratory quotient. Decerebrate and control rats also respond to insulin administration with increased intraoral intake, and both groups respond to administration of the competitive glucose analog 2-deoxy-d-glucose with sympathoadrenal hyperglycemia. Thus, the caudal brainstem is sufficient to maintain some aspects of the control of food intake and energy expenditure.
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Brain Stem Stroke Survivor Stories
Flint Rehab has had the pleasure of speaking with various brain stem stroke survivors to learn about their experiences, and wed like to share a couple of those stories with you.
First, wed like to share from Becky, who experienced a brain stem stroke at the end of November 2007.
Initially, she was paralyzed from the neck down and now she is able to move her body again. Not all patients can recover from locked-in syndrome like Becky, but she shows that recovery is possible. Check out her story in the video below:
Next we spoke with a stroke survivor named Luke, who experienced a brain stem stroke in July 2019. Heres what he said:
Luke intends to try again to return to college, and overall has made significant progress in just one year post-stroke.
We hope these recovery stories help shine some light on how other survivors were affected by a stroke in the brain stem, and how intensive rehabilitation helps with recovery.
Not all stroke survivors will experience these same results, but its important to try. Believing that recovery is possible will motivate you to take action, which is how results are made.
What Are Thinking Skills
Memory is often the first thinking skill that comes to mind, but there are many more, for example:
- paying attention to tasks at hand
- vocabulary and language skills
Together, our thinking skills give us our identity and sense of self, and enable us to engage with the world around us.
My brain is the most important thing I own and I intend to take care of it.
Lissa, 84 | Coventry
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Rehabilitation For Brain Stem Stroke Patients
After the initial stay in the hospital, many stroke survivors spend time in inpatient rehabilitation, where they participate in 3-4 hours of therapy per day.
During this time, a team of therapists work with survivors to regain lost functions.
For instance, if a stroke survivor struggles with loss of sensation , an occupational therapist can help them with sensory retraining. This therapy helps retrain the brain to process sensation.
If the survivor struggles with locked-in syndrome, therapists can help the survivor accomplish passive range-of-motion exercises to help stimulate the brain and encourage recovery.
One of the overarching goals during rehabilitation is to spark neuroplasticity: the brains ability to rewire itself. Although its impossible to revive dead areas in the brain, neuroplasticity allows new areas of the brain to take on lost function.
It takes hard work and consistency, because neuroplasticity is activated through massed practice. This involves practicing the skills you want to improve on a regular basis.
This means that, after discharge from inpatient therapy, its imperative that stroke survivors continue with rehabilitation both at home and at outpatient therapy.
Sometimes it helps to learn from the experiences of other brain stem stroke survivors to see how they were affected and how they recovered. Recovery is highly unique, so keep this in mind when reading other survivors stories.
Can You Recover From A Brain Stem Injury
Damage to some parts of the brain can be managed, however, brain stem injuries can be very difficult to and fatal to your overall health. It can even potentially cause permanent damage.
Thats because the brain stem connects your brain to all other parts of your body. Without a brain stem, that connection would be lost and your body cant function.
Injuries to the brain stem can affect your personality and even paralyze you. Since this is a very sensitive part of the brain, today treatment is limited and very expensive.
Its not about mental intelligence, its about mental fitness.
Jim Kwik, Author of Mindvalleys Superbrain Program
Brain stem treatment
Its not all bad news when it comes to treating brain stem injuries. As long as the injury is diagnosed early enough, it can be in many cases highly treatable.
Depending on the nature of the injury of course, and what areas of the body are affected, specific exercises and therapy can help strengthen the brain stems function.
Like any other muscle in your body, your brain including the brain stem grows and develops with regular exercise. This includes both actual physical exercise and brain workouts. Together, they stimulate the generation of new neurons and help keep your brain young and active.
How do you keep your brain healthy and sharp?
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Blood Supply To The Brain
Two sets of blood vessels supply blood and oxygen to the brain: the vertebral arteries and the carotid arteries.
The external carotid arteries extend up the sides of your neck, and are where you can feel your pulse when you touch the area with your fingertips. The internal carotid arteries branch into the skull and circulate blood to the front part of the brain.
The vertebral arteries follow the spinal column into the skull, where they join together at the brainstem and form the basilar artery, which supplies blood to the rear portions of the brain.
The circle of Willis, a loop of blood vessels near the bottom of the brain that connects major arteries, circulates blood from the front of the brain to the back and helps the arterial systems communicate with one another.
The Central Nervous System
To understand brain and spinal cord tumors, it helps to know about the normal structure and function of the central nervous system , which is the medical name for the brain and spinal cord.
The brain is the center of thought, feeling, memory, speech, vision, hearing, movement, breathing, and much more. The spinal cord and special nerves in the head called cranial nerves help carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body. These messages tell our muscles how to move, transmit information gathered by our senses, and help coordinate the functions of our internal organs.
The brain is protected by the skull. Likewise, the spinal cord is protected by the bones of the spinal column.
The brain and spinal cord are surrounded and cushioned by a special liquid, called cerebrospinal fluid . Cerebrospinal fluid is made by the choroid plexus, which is found in spaces within the brain called ventricles. The ventricles and the spaces around the brain and spinal cord are filled with CSF.
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Tissues Covering The Brain
Within the skull, the brain is covered by three layers of tissue called the meninges.
No computer has yet come close to matching the capabilities of the human brain. However, this sophistication comes with a price. The brain needs constant nourishment. It demands an extremely large amount and continuous flow of blood and oxygenabout 25% of the blood flow from the heart. The overall energy consumption of the brain does not change much over time, but certain areas of the brain, use more energy during periods of increased activity . A loss of blood flow to the brain for more than about 10 seconds can cause a loss of consciousness.
Lack of oxygen or abnormally low sugar levels in the blood can result in less energy for the brain and can seriously injure the brain within 4 minutes. However, the brain is defended by several mechanisms that can work to prevent these problems. For example, if blood flow to the brain decreases, the brain immediately signals the heart to beat faster and more forcefully, and thus to pump more blood. If the sugar level in the blood becomes too low, the brain signals the adrenal glands to release epinephrine , which stimulates the liver to release stored sugar.
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The brainstem or Truncus encephali in Latin is a brain structure located between the medulla and the spinal cord . It is the base of the brain. It consists of the midbrain, the medulla oblongata or the long medulla, the Varolis bridge, and the spinal cord.
The function of the brainstem is to receive, process, and adjust certain functions related to attention, vision, sleep, hearing, arousal, and temperature control.
Finally, brain stem or Truncus encephali has an important role in maintaining body position and controlling muscle tension .
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S Of The Brain And Spinal Cord
The main areas of the brain include the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem. Each part has a special function.
Cerebrum: The cerebrum is the large, outer part of the brain. It is divided into left and right hemispheres and controls reasoning, thought, emotion, and language. It is also responsible for planned muscle movements and for taking in and interpreting sensory information such as vision, hearing, smell, touch, and pain.
Cerebellum: The cerebellum lies under the cerebrum at the back part of the brain. It helps coordinate movement.
Brain stem: The brain stem is the lower part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord. It contains bundles of very long nerve fibers that carry signals controlling muscles and sensation or feeling between the cerebrum and the rest the body. Special centers in the brain stem also help control breathing and the beating of the heart. Also, most cranial nerves start in the brain stem.
The brain stem is divided into 3 main parts: the midbrain, pons, and medulla oblongata.
Because the brain stem is a small area that is so essential for life, it might not be possible to surgically remove tumors in this area.
Cranial nerves: The cranial nerves extend directly out of the base of the brain . These nerves carry signals directly between the brain and the face, eyes, ears, tongue, mouth, and some other areas.
Choroid plexus: The choroid plexus is the area of the brain within the ventricles that makes CSF, which nourishes and protects the brain.
The Brain Has Three Main Functions
Did you know that the average adult brain is about the size of a medium cauliflower? It accounts for about 2% of total body weight, yet receives 20% of our blood supply and uses 20% of our total calorie intake.
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What Is The Function Of The Brain Stem
To get a well-rounded picture of all the brain stem functions, well need to learn what parts does the brain stem connect to.
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The brain stem acts as a primary connection to several parts of the brain. In a way, it can be considered as a control bridge between brain parts.
It links the cerebrum and spinal cord together, as well as the cerebrum with the cerebellum. The cerebellum is positioned right above the brainstem and beneath the occipital lobes at the back.
Within the brainstem are nerve tracts that relay signals from the cerebellum to areas of the cerebral cortex. This allows you to have fine coordination and control of your motor movements.
Other important brain stem functions also include:
- Heart rate
- Information bridge between the peripheral nerves and spinal cord to the upper areas of the brain
The brain stem is not just a connection between different areas of the brain. It also acts as your bodys management control, regulating many of its autonomic functions.
What Are The Parts Of The Brainstem
Your brainstem consists of three parts:
- Midbrain: The top part of the brainstem is crucial for regulating eye movements.
- Pons: The middle portion of the brainstem coordinates facial movements, hearing and balance.
- Medulla oblongata: The bottom part of the brainstem helps regulate your breathing, heart rhythms, blood pressure and swallowing.
Your brainstem also contains your reticular activating system . The RAS is a network of neurons . Your RAS controls your sleep and wake cycles. It also helps you stay alert and attentive to your surroundings.
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How Does The Brain Work
The brain sends and receives chemical and electrical signals throughout the body. Different signals control different processes, and your brain interprets each. Some make you feel tired, for example, while others make you feel pain.
Some messages are kept within the brain, while others are relayed through the spine and across the bodys vast network of nerves to distant extremities. To do this, the central nervous system relies on billions of neurons .
Potential Secondary Effects Of Brain Stem Stroke
The brain stem plays a major role in basic bodily functions, such as breathing, consciousness, and heart rate. Therefore, the secondary effects of a brain stem stroke can impact these functions, and others.
Here are some of the possible secondary effects of a stroke in the brain stem:
Next, lets look at the outlook for a brain stem stroke.
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About The Brain And Spinal Cord
Together, the brain and spinal cord form the central nervous system. This complex system is part of everything we do. It controls the things we choose to dolike walk and talkand the things our body does automaticallylike breathe and digest food. The central nervous system is also involved with our sensesseeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling as well as our emotions, thoughts, and memory.
The brain is a soft, spongy mass of nerve cells and supportive tissue. It has three major parts: the cerebrum, the cerebellum, and the brain stem. The parts work together, but each has special functions.
The cerebrum, the largest part of the brain, fills most of the upper skull. It has two halves called the left and right cerebral hemispheres. The cerebrum uses information from our senses to tell us what’s going on around us and tells our body how to respond. The right hemisphere controls the muscles on the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the muscles on the right side of the body. This part of the brain also controls speech and emotions as well as reading, thinking, and learning.
The cerebellum, under the cerebrum at the back of the brain, controls balance and complex actions like walking and talking.
The brain stem connects the brain with the spinal cord. It controls hunger and thirst and some of the most basic body functions, such as body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing.