Humans have always been fascinated with how the mind works. How can a unique ‘you’ with memories, thoughts and feelings be created by the activity of 100 billion neurons (or nerve cells) in the brain? And what happens in the brain when people suffer from mental illness, or from diseases like Alzheimer's?
Why is this important?
What can go wrong with the brain?
Our brain makes us who we are, but how this happens is still a fascinating scientific puzzle. New scientific techniques, such as fMRI, can let us see how our brain remembers, thinks, speaks and feels. It also shows us what happens in different areas of the brain in people who suffer from a range of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis, and also what happens when someone suffers a stroke, is in a coma, or is suffering from mental health problems.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting around 417,000 people in the UK. People who have dementia start to lose various brain functions. They might become forgetful as memory functions are affected, or they might have problems with language, or their ability to make decisions. Think about how your everyday life might be affected if you had Alzheimer's disease.
As the disease progresses, people with Alzheimer's need more support from those who care for them. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia, but there are some treatments that can temporarily help with some of the symptoms.
The percentage of the UK population which is aged over 65 is continuing to increase. There are 1.5 million extra people in this age group than there were 25 years ago. Dementia usually occurs after the age of 65. So as people live longer, a larger proportion of the population could be living with dementia, which means that the UK will have to provide more support - more money, more carers - for those living with the desease.
Scientific research will help us understand what happens in Alzheimer's disease, and might help us discover how it can be prevented, and how to reduce people's symptoms.
Watch this video to discover the ways in which MRI can be used today: