Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer's Disease

By Ronald Petersen | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
How the brain works and what can go wrong

The human brain weighs
only 3 to 4 pounds but
contains about 100 billion
neurons [nerve cells].
Although that extraordinary
number is of the same order
of magnitude as the number
of stars in the Milky Way,
it cannot account for the
complexity of the brain
.

Gerald D. Fischbach, M.D.

Mind and Brain

With dedication and zeal akin to that of the astronomers and cosmologists who study the universe, scientists are pursuing the secrets of the mind. The human brain has been measured, scanned, tested, dissected, described and analyzed countless times. But each mystery that has been resolved only seems to uncover other questions and riddles about the workings of the brain. Advances in science and technology have provided so many new insights into this vital part of the human body that the U.S. Congress labeled the 1990s as the Decade of the Brain. Despite these breakthroughs, the brain remains a source of fascination and wonder.

In Chapter 1 you learned that Alzheimer’s disease involves a breakdown in the communication that goes on among billions of brain cells. In order to understand how this breakdown occurs, it’s helpful to know how a normal brain works. In this chapter, you look at various structures of the human brain and learn some of their main functions. You also see how the parts of the brain can malfunction and how the resulting damage may cause dementia.

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