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The following information will tell you about the brain, how it works and what it does. It will also tell you about different types of brain injury.
The brain controls everything we do with our body. It also controls what we think and say, and controls our emotions and who we are. Our brain is a bit like a computer as it controls everything we do with our body!
The brain is very delicate and is well protected by the skull. It is also protected by a water cushion called cerebro spinal fluid (CSF). It’s quite complicated so you might want to read sections of this again, maybe with your Mum and Dad.
Overview of the brain
The brain controls everything we do with our body. It also controls what we think and say, and controls our emotions and who we are.
If you were to look under a microscope you would see that the brain is made of 100 billion nerve cells called neurons! These neurons connect the brain to the rest of the body by the spinal cord.
A quick reference to all parts of the brain
The brain is made up of lots of parts a bit like a car engine. The engine controls the rest of the car and is hidden under the bonnet of the car, just like the brain which is hidden in the skull.
The skull is very hard bone and protects the brain from most knocks and falls that you have. Babies are born with a soft skull in order to give the brain chance to grow. When it has finished growing the skull becomes hard to keep the brain safe.
The Brain Stem
The brain stem sits at the very top of the spinal cord. The brain stem is the most primitive part of the brain. This means it hasn’t developed very much over the years. The brain stem’s only job is to keep you alive! The brain stem is separated into three other areas: mid-brain, pons and the medulla. The mid-brain sits at the top and allows both sides (or hemispheres) of the brain to communicate with each other.
The pons acts like a bridge. It has lots of nerves bundles that run through it. It also contains the fourth ventricle where the CSF passes through to go down the spine.
The medulla controls our heart and lungs which is also known as cardiac and respiratory function. It sounds very complicated but it basically means the brain stem keeps you alive and kicking!
The cerebellum sits behind the brain stem and sits in the very back of the skull. The cerebellum controls our sense of balance and helps us to co-ordinate movement.
The Parietal Lobes
The parietal lobes have two main jobs. Firstly they interpret what our senses detect and how this fits with what we see – for example, when your skin feels heat and your eyes see fire. The parietal lobes figure out that fire must be hot.
The parietal lobes also tell us what is part of our body and what is part of the environment. For example, if you stand in a field you are aware of wide open spaces and maybe a few cows. This is known as ‘spatial awareness’.
The Occipital Lobes
The occipital lobes are responsible for interpreting what the eyes see by recognising shapes and colours. The occipital lobes work together with the parietal lobes in that they ‘figure out’ what we see. They also figure out what we are looking at in order to help the parietal lobes figure out how big something is – like the field with the cows in it, for example.
The Frontal Lobes
The frontal lobes control so much of what we do with our bodies that doctors are learning new things about the frontal lobes all the time. The frontal lobe is our emotional control centre and our personality also grows and develops here. It is the area in your brain that makes you the person you are! For example, if you are a ‘happy-go-lucky person’, ‘a great thinker’, or ‘really funny’ or ‘serious’. It is all controlled here! The frontal lobe also controls body movement, allows us to solve problems and do mathematics, and is also the part of the brain that learns how to speak!
Most importantly, the frontal lobe allows us to think independently and be spontaneous. We also regulate our ‘impulses’ here. How many times do you want to do something and then think twice before doing it? Well, that is the frontal lobe in action! Our long-term memory is also stored here. Doctors aren’t too sure how memory is stored yet be they do know it is kept here. The frontal lobe also controls our sexual feelings or our ‘sexuality’ and also regulates how we interact with people, which is also known as ‘social interaction’.
The Temporal Lobes
The temporal lobes are involved in sorting out what we feel, taste, smell and hear. If you think of all the sensations you have every second of the day you will get a sense of how busy the temporal lobes have to work in order to tell you what is happening around you. Try this exercise: what can you hear? What can you smell? What is your skin feeling or sensing? I think you’ll agree there is a lot going on. The temporal lobes are busy sorting all of that information out.
A major function of the temporal lobes is to distinguish what you can hear. In particularly, the temporal lobes organise sound and is how you recognise words when someone is speaking. This is also known as ‘speech recognition’. It is also thought that our short-term memory is kept here. It allows you to remember what your friend said to you five minutes ago or what you had for breakfast.
Everyone bangs their head from time to time. Although it might hurt and you may get a bruise, there is rarely any damage caused to the brain. This is because the skull and the cerebro spinal fluid (CSF) protect the brain and keep it safe. However, sometimes you can hurt your head more seriously.
Head injury means a larger knock or bump to the head. This can be non-serious, like a small cut to your face or it can be more serious, maybe you broke your nose or were knocked unconscious. Doctors and nurses sometimes refer to an injury to the face or head as a ‘Head Injury’.
Acquired Brain Injury or ABI
An ABI means that your brain has been hurt after you were born. This can be caused by an accident, illness or operation. There are two types of ABI- traumatic brain injury and non-traumatic brain injury.
Traumatic Brain Injury
An ABI means the brain has been damaged as a result of an accident, illness or operation. Trauma means a knock to the body that causes someone to bruise, bleed or fracture a bone. Traumatic brain injury means a knock or blow that causes the brain to get bruised, cut, bleed or spin around inside the skull. Sometimes the skull might break too which is called a skull fracture and there are many different types of skull fracture.
Here is how you may get a traumatic brain injury and skull fracture:
- Being knocked down by a car and banging your head
- Falling off your bike or horse and banging your head
- Being hit on your head by a hockey stick
- Falling down the stairs or tripping over banging your head
- Gunshot wound
Non-traumatic Brain Injury
Non-traumatic brain injury means that the brain has been damaged by an illness. There are no cuts or broken bones but a non-traumatic brain injury is still very serious.
Examples of a non-traumatic brain injury include:
- Meningitis or Encephalitis which is caused by different bugs known as a virus or bacteria getting to the brain
- Brain tumour where some cells in the brain grow wrong or mutate and form a lump inside the brain
- Hypoxic injury where some of the brain cells die because they didn’t get enough oxygen
- Brain injury through some other part of the body going wrong such as the kidneys or liver
- Vascular problems, where there is problem with the blood supply to the brain plumbing