This is Brain Awareness Week. What does this mean to MSers?
According to the Society for Neuroscience, "Brain Awareness Week (BAW) is an inspirational global campaign that unites those who share an interest in elevating public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain and nervous system research."
Everyone has a brain, so everyone has an interest. The brain is the central computer that controls all bodily functions. Between the brain and different parts of the body is the nervous system, the network that relays messages back and forth. The spinal cord contains threadlike nerves that branch out to every organ and body part. It's simple: signals traveling through the nervous system to the brain tell us how to think and feel, and signals from the brain tell our body what to do. Nerve cells called neurons direct and move the signal throughout the nervous system.
People with MS have a special interest because MS is a problem with the central nervous system and the brain is the center of this condition. MS is found as damage to a healthy brain. The relationship between MS and the brain is basic in that MS uses scans of the brain for diagnosis and tracking progress. The magnetic scan image (MRI) produces clear, detailed pictures of the brain structures in cross sectional slices.
An MRI of the brain displays the entire brain one slice at a time. The brain is protected by bone, the skull, and by the cerebro-spinal fluid. Cerebrospinal fluid is checked during a lumbar puncture, when results help support an MRI diagnosis of MS. The nervous system is protected or insulated by myelin-axon. When myelin is damaged, neurons slow or stop the signal to and from the brain, and this is seen on MRI's as a lesion.
At one time, it was believed that brain volume at the time of diagnosis, along with the number of lesions, indicated speed of progression. It is believed there is something in addition and not indicated by the MRI that causes the problems.
Brain atrophy is loss of neurons based on fewer connections or shrinking size. Atrophy indicates that the MS is worsening. Brains continue to produce cells, but when MS is a factor the new cells cannot repair the damage to the neurons. Research findings suggest an unknown factor limits the repair process.
Random patches of inflammation in the brain called lesions result in demyelination and MS symptoms. Research has shown that some lesions are repaired by the brain in early stages of MS. In a small study performed using brain tissue from autopsies, it was found that most lesions contain newly generated cells, but that number decreases based on the disease duration. It is, however, not based on the type of MS or the age of the patient.
MS brings with it the effects of too much physical activity. At one time, people with MS were cautioned about too much exercise for fear it caused exacerbations. However, research has proven fitness protects the brain as it is affected by MS. Lesions tend to be smaller in MSers who are physically fit compared to those who are less fit. So we can exercise, play, or participate in as many activities as we want to. If you think you can, go ahead and do it!
Cognitive problems are high on the list of an MSer's worries. About 50% of people with MS experience some kind of dysfunction — trouble concentrating or remembering, attention, depression, forgetting words, brain fog, fatigue. The good news is only 5-10% have impairments that make it difficult to perform daily activities.
To guard against strong impairment, there are exercises to strengthen cognition. Here is a site with games and tips to help improve cognitive difficulties. My doctor told me to do crossword puzzles to keep my mind active, clear and focused.
Through the brain, doctors diagnose and track the progression of my MS. In recognizing Brain Awareness Week , all of us with MS can acknowledge the intimate relationship between our brain and our condition. Continued brain research is sure to contribute directly to the prevention and treatment of MS.
People with MS have the opportunity to honor Brain Awareness Week.
Notes and Links:
**Brain Produces New Cells
Secret life of the brain - Clear, simple explanation of the MRI
Brain Awareness Week links
Society for Neuroscience
Published On: March 18, 2010