AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


The Brain’s Glorious Complexity

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. In fact, the thinking part of our brains can be thought of as two symmetrical hemi-brains connected by a large bundle of nerves. Unfortunately, this complexity can mean increased susceptibility to diseases.

In the 90% of us that are right handed, the left half of the brain is called dominant and the right half of the brain is called nondominant. Damage to the left brain often leads to language disorders called aphasia and damage to the right brain often leads to loss of awareness called agnosia. A recent patient encounter highlights how knowledge of the brain’s organization can explain abnormal behavior:

A 72 year old man had trouble logging on to his computer to play word games on Saturday. Normally, he has no problem with this, but he had to get his wife to help him three times that day. The next day, he was restless and slept more than usual. On Monday, he was agitated, could not say what was wrong and had to be led to the car. At the hospital, the emergency room doctor could find no evidence of a stroke or intoxication, so depression or psychosis were suspected. The stroke neurologist identified that he was not confused, depressed, or psychotic; he was aphasic and brain imaging confirmed a small recent stroke on the left side of his brain. This man had Wernicke aphasia due to damage to his dominant hemisphere in the area described by Dr. Wernicke in the late 1800s.

Study of patients with brain damage has led to a great deal of understanding about how the normal brain works. For example, the right brain’s abilities lie in its subconscious attention to the details of recognizing faces, objects, sounds, shapes, and smells. These are critical for human survival – imagine the survival disadvantage if you could not rapidly distinguish foe from friend!

For a stunningly lucid overview of current brain knowledge, check out Charlie Rose’s recent Brain Series which explores “the most exciting scientific journey of our time: understanding the brain.”


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