Brain Injury Series Part 1: Anatomy of the Brain

This is the first of a series of blogs on Winning Strategies for Handling a Mild to Severe Brain Injury Case.

To begin, an understanding of brain anatomy is essential to gain some knowledge of what happens to the brain after a traumatic brain injury.  It is one of the responsibilities of counsel in a traumatic brain injury case to educate the judge and jury on the anatomy of the brain.

Interestingly, the brain is not a hard muscle-like substance, but rather a soft gelatin-like organ that sits within a rough and bony skull.  The brain is covered by three thin protective layers called the meninges. The space between the meninges and the brain is filled with a clear liquid called cerebral spinal fluid. This fluid works to keep the central nervous system healthy. The brain is innervated by a sophisticated system of blood vessels which carry blood to and from the heart.
Within these two hemispheres there are four lobes – frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital, and each lobe is responsible for specific functioning.  The brain stem and cerebellum also play a significant role in the brain’s functioning.The outermost and largest part of the brain is called the cerebrum and it controls things like thoughts and actions. It has a wrinkled surface and is divided it into two halves, known as the left and right hemispheres.

  • Frontal Lobes – deals with reasoning, planning, self-control, some speech and emotion functions, and problem solving.  The frontal lobes also play an important part in memory, intelligence, concentration, and are responsible for executive functions.
  • Parietal Lobes – are involved with movement, and also help people to understand signals received from other areas of the brain such as vision, hearing, sensory and memory.  A person’s memory and sensory information received give meaning to objects and “put it all together”.
  • Occipital Lobes – found at the back of the brain, receive signals from the eyes, process those signals, allow people to understand what they are seeing, and influence how people process colours and shapes.
  • Temporal Lobes – are located at around ear level, and are the main memory centre of the brain, contributing to both long-term and short-term memories.  The temporal lobe is also involved with understanding what is heard, and with the ability to speak.  The left temporal lobe is involved in verbal memory and aids in understanding language, where the right temporal lobe is involved in visual memory and helps people recognize objects and faces.
  • Brain Stem – is responsible for maintaining the body’s most basic functions such as breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure.
  • Cerebellum – it is divided into two halves, with the main function of controlling and regulating the body movement of the muscular skeletal system.

The brain and nervous system also consist of billions of tiny cells called neurons.  Neurons are the “communicators” and each neuron has three main parts:

  • Cell body:  the central station that sends out impulses
  • Axon:  long, slim “wire” that transmits signals from one cell body to another via junctions known as synapses
  • Dendrites:  networks of short “wires” that branch out from an axon and synapse with the ends axons from other neurons.

The neurons receive and transmit information in a relay where electrical impulses alternate with chemical messengers. The electrical impulses flow through nerve cell pathways along the axons and dendrites. Neuro-chemical transmitters leap the synaptic gaps between each neuron’s axon and the other neurons with which an axon makes contact. Each neuron is its own miniature information center which decides to fire or not fire an electrical impulse depending on the thousand or so signals it is receiving every moment.

Stay tuned for the next part in the blog series on the ways a brain can be damaged.This is a basic overview of the anatomy of the brain.  It is important that lawyers understand the functions of the brain to better understand how injury to a particular area of the brain can impact your client.

 

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