My eyes are closed, the air is filled with the smell of formaldehyde, and I feel a wide bumpy groove under my fingertips that horrifies me. I am in a post-graduate human brain dissection course at Touro University School of Medicine in California and I just felt a brain with such advanced degeneration that I couldn’t stop my emotions and imagination from going all over the place. Before the dissection course began I had been privileged enough to palpate about 50 different brains in the anatomy lab. When you palpate a human brain, you should be able to feel multiple small, tight convolutions that are spongy yet offer resistance to pressure. When you a feel a degenerated brain, you feel wide spaces between the convolutions, and the brain feels very soft.
As I felt brains that were degenerated in specific areas, I imagined the disabilities the person must have had, and specific tasks that must have been difficult. I remember feeling a degenerated frontal cortex (behind the forehead) and knowing this person must have had personality changes and an inability to focus and concentrate. She probably had lost motivation for life, and her “spark,” as the decayed part of the brain under my fingertips was once responsible for those functions. I had no doubt she developed these symptoms slowly over time, and that the consequences of her degenerated brain were identified as personality and mood changes instead of a degenerative brain disease.
I imagined she began first losing her motivation and passion for life, and her family and friends thought she was just moody. Perhaps she was diagnosed with depression and given various antidepressants, which did nothing to slow down her brain degeneration. She probably then started to have difficulty focusing and remembering directions and simple phone numbers.
With such significant degeneration, I guessed she also lost her bladder tone and suffered from incontinence. I imagined her doctors told her that she was just getting old and that she had nothing to worry about. If she was like the millions of other people, she was never diagnosed in the early stages of her brain degeneration or given strategies to improve her brain health.
Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS, MNeuroSci