Degenerative brain diseases have an enormous impact on our aging society.
Alzheimer's disease progressively robs its victims of their memory. Parkinson's
disease leads to impairments in movement. Frontotemporal dementia causes
bewildering changes in a person's thoughts and behaviour. Huntington's disease
painstakingly deprives a person of their ability to walk, talk, think and
reason, often as early as in their mid 30s and 40s. (reference)
There are hundreds of disorders that afflict the nervous system. Neurodegenerative disorders are diseases that primarily modify brain neuron cells. These disorders are characterized by progressive nervous system dysfunction. Neurons are key components on the central nervous system (CNS), which include the brain and spinal cord. Unlike some other cell types in our body, once damaged or killed, neurons are incapable of repair-renewal. (reference)
Neurodegeneration characterizes pathologic conditions, ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to glaucoma, with devastating social and economic effects. It is a complex process implicating a series of molecular and cellular events, such as oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, protein misfolding, excitotoxicity and inflammation. To date, neurodegenerative disorders have been incurable. With time, they result in progressive damage/death of neurons in brain tissue. This will lead to difficulties either with movement (ataxias) or with mental functioning (dementias). Neurodegenerative disorders can modify several of our body’s activities, including: balance, movement, tremor, talking, swallowing, digestion, sight, hearing, breathing, and heart function. Scientists and physicians are working out the genetics, biochemistry, etiology (the cause of a disease), and pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders. Neurodegenerative disorders may be caused by genetic alterations, pathogens/environmental factors (toxins, viruses and chemicals), and many times, the cause is unknown. Depending on the specific disorder, neurodegenerative disorders can be either serious or life threatening.
According to Eric Kandel, who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons in 2000, in his book, In Search of Memory, emphasized the biological nature of the mind in the following excerpt:
“Each mental function in the brain–from the simplest reflex to the most creative acts in language, music, and art–is carried out by specialized neural circuits in different regions of the brain…the cellular mechanisms of learning and memory reside not in the special properties of the neuron itself, but in the connections it receives and makes with other cells in the neural circuit to which it belongs.”
The complex physiology of brain functions, the interdependence of multiple neural networks, the coordination and integration of numerous brain regions–all these and more as-yet-undetected or poorly-understood components of cognitive function, when operating at a minimally functional level, allow the perception of our subjective experience of our existence to enter conscious awareness.
What we believe to be perception of subjective experience, is in reality the result of these components of cognitive function operating at least at a minimally optimal level. However, while all varieties of perception require each relative sensory system to be sufficiently functional, those systems do not create the light, the scent, the sound, the taste or the touch. Perception, while essential to experience, does not create experience, but rather, it facilitates our awareness of the experience. (reference)
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