Depending on which of the many semi-reliable sources for such information, wild tigers (not in zoos) kill between 50 and 2,000 people worldwide. These ferocious felines (Panthera tigris), according to mascotdb.com, are ranked number two behind the Eagles as the most popular sports mascots in the United States, numbering in the thousands. Hippos, on the other hand, are estimated to kill between 2,500-3,000 people yearly and have only one (!!) high school, in Hutto, Texas, who proudly dons a hippo on their trucker hat. Go Hippos!!! They unequivocally must have a huge school system and a brilliant set of administrators and teachers! How do I induce that, you ask? 3 reasons: It is Texas, so you know the school is gigantic; they won the 2018 Texas state Robotics championship; and, with their super large “Hippo Campus”, they probably remember everything their teachers ever tell them. (Unfun fact: a thumb’s up to the 8 sporting teams that chose Skeeters, the world’s deadliest creature who reduces the world population by nearly 1 million yearly).
The hippocampus is the first brain chunk I would like to briefly discuss in an ongoing weekly series of how Alzheimer’s sucks if you happen to be a brain. I need to make a quick/obvious note here: I am NOT a neuroscientist nor a brain surgeon or even a particularly good comedian, as will soon be painfully and utterly clear as you read. I am an IT professional who works with seniors and those who serve them for a living. If you want more scientific data and a better level of assurance that the data is 100% accurate, scads of studies and general research information is available in scholarly journals and even advocate websites like alz.org.
According to the National Institute on Aging, early in the process of developing Alzheimer’s, the brain plaques, tangles and resulting inflammation “typically destroys neurons and their connections in parts of the brain involved in memory, including the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus”. I will cover these little cell destroyers in a later discussion since you don’t have all day to read this and you are still recovering from the bad hippo joke. The hippocampus is located in the inner core of the brain between the lobes (sides) of the structure. It gets its name from the Greek word hippokampus (hippos, meaning “horse,” and kampos, meaning “sea monster”) and was given this moniker, not so that I could make dumb jokes, but because it is shaped like a sea horse. This little noodle of the bigger noggin appears to be key in two things: long-term memory and, as part of the Limbic system, regulating emotions and stressors. Somehow one side of this little device is tied to the Amygdala, which regulates emotion and stress while the other works with the “etrosplenial and posterior parietal cortices” and is thought to be involved principally in cognitive and spatial processing. Long-term memory factors in this interaction too.
Two things I find interesting in my studying this early Alzheimer’s damage: The section that sorts both short- and long-term memory into its place is the first section listed as damaged. Most people I have talked to about Alzheimer’s cite short-term memory as clearly the first item they noticed was damaged in their loved one. Secondly, cognitive (producing and understanding communication such as talking and reading with understanding) and spatial (visually learning and representing things in your mind) processing is damaged which also seems partially contrary to how I think of mom’s early years with dementia. Even now, in late stages, she can still play the piano with her eyes closed. Cognitive processing is doing very poor and has progressed in the wrong direction for years now, so that piece of the puzzle makes sense. I wonder how many workarounds the brain has for damage? I also wonder if music aids in these workarounds somehow?
Before we move on with this weekly series on the brain, I want
to reiterate that every brain experience is different and somewhat
unpredictable. Every discussion of the brain seems to include the phrase “This
part is thought to (blank) by (blanking)…”. Medicines practically say right on
the bottle “MedX is thought to work by X”. The brain is complex. Much of what
we know about parts of the brain are derived from decades-old studies on
patients that had parts of their brain removed. It is so complex, we can’t know
the underlying problems with doing this, we just see the results. Best example:
Nearly 70 years ago, a medical rock star patient/Guinea pig named Henry
Molaison (HM) was given a lobotomy (removed parts of his brain) to try to cure
devastating epilepsy. They then studied him extensively until he died. Among
the many things discovered in studying him is that we know that memories are
separate from cognitive ability. In other words, being smart and able to learn
isn’t only being able to remember stuff. HM lost his memory when he lost parts
that early Alzheimer’s affects, but he didn’t cease to have strong cognitive
abilities. HM would forget your name immediately after hearing it, but could
function in many ways quite well. Scientists have debated the obvious problem:
when one part of the brain is messed up, is the resulting symptoms caused by
the messed up (removed) part or by their lack of interaction with other parts
of the brain?
Sadly, deep brain study is a pretty slow going study because the number of people lining up to have chunks of healthy brain removed to find out what happens is understandably about as small as the number of people who liked Maroon 5’s Super Bowl performance. Likewise, public opinion of scientifically prodding around inside of the brains of monkeys and other primates is less popular that the thought of poking into Adam Levine’s brain to figure out what in the world he was thinking at the Super Bowl??? Early Alzheimer’s damage to the hippocampus may mess up long-term memory, but some stinking aspect of it manifests itself in mom forgetting her car keys, not remembering what day it is and other early ALZ memory failure experiences. These are more memorable looking back because we don’t realize that we forgotten long-term memories as easily as we do that we realize that we forgot where we parked at WalMart, because it is the current experience that we live in most of the time, not the distant past.
In summary, let me say that these early parts damaged by this disease are terrible, but they are merely an inconvenience compared to future episodes of Brain Failure Weekly. (Note: The worst magazine name ever!!)L
Keep your head up and know that your Creator knows how all of this works and He cares. Scientists may or may not figure it out in time for my mom or the Sweet 17, but every day we trod on we are a day closer to a place with no Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease or tears.