Delve into the mysteries of what can go awry inside our central processing unit. Taught by esteemed Professor Sandy Neargarder, the 24 eye-opening lessons in Understanding Disorders of the Brain survey some of the most common, and not-so-common, disorders that disrupt the many ways our brains function.
Understanding Disorders of the Brain
Sandy Neargarder is a Professor of Psychology at Bridgewater State University. She received her PhD in Experimental Psychology from Vanderbilt University with a dissertation on exploring dementia in Down syndrome. Following graduation, she served a two-year term as a postdoctoral research fellow at Boston University and has continued her involvement there as a research scientist in the Vision & Cognition Laboratory. Her research has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, including Behavioral Neuroscience, Clinical Nutrition, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Cortex, Neurology, Neuropsychology, Parkinson’s Disease, Perception, and Vision Research.
01: Anatomy and Functioning of the Brain
Kick off this course with a tour of the brain. As you delve into the colorful world of grey matter, this first lesson reviews the parts of the brain and the various functions that keep our bodies operating and our minds working. This grounding in neurology will set you up to understand what follows.
02: Neuropsychological Assessment
Now that you understand the anatomy of the brain, shift your attention to the field of neuropsychology, which is both an experimental field and a clinical field within psychology. In addition to discovering how brain functioning influences behavior and cognition, neuropsychologists work to assess and treat brain disorders.
03: Intellectual Disabilities and Down Syndrome
Begin the first of several lessons that focus on brain disorders commonly diagnosed during childhood—beginning here with intellectual disabilities and Down syndrome. Professor Neargarder surveys the range of disabilities and then delves into potential genetic and environmental causes.
04: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Part 1
In this first lesson on autism spectrum disorders, you will study the symptoms that characterize autism, how autism is diagnosed, and some of the presumed causes and comorbidities. You will also reflect on Asperger’s syndrome, which is no longer considered a stand-alone diagnosis.
05: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Part 2
Continue your exploration of autism by examining research on brain pathology, savant abilities, and treatment options. Revisit what you learned in the lesson on brain anatomy to see what parts of the brain play a role in autism. Then turn to behavior treatments and medications that support treatment.
06: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Most of us have heard of Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but what exactly is this disorder? How prevalent is it and how is it treated? Dive into the different types of ADHD and how it affects children, the environmental risk factors, and some challenges of diagnosis.
07: Developmental Dyslexia
Take a closer look at a language-based learning disability known as developmental dyslexia, which affects about 5-10% of school-aged children. Although the various theories regarding dyslexia are inconclusive, Professor Neargarder offers an overview of causes. Consider what’s going on inside the brain of someone with dyslexia.
In today’s lesson, you will examine epilepsy, a disorder marked by seizures—an episode where groups of neurons in the brain fire simultaneously. After reviewing the different categories of epileptic seizures, as well as causes and treatments, you will walk through two case studies to see how epilepsy can affect people differently.
09: Mitochondrial Disorders
You may remember learning about the “mighty mitochondria” in biology. When these energy producers fail, it can lead to cell injuries and death—and debilitating effects for the person who is impacted. Here, find out about mitochondrial disorders, their symptoms and causes, and the relationship between mitochondrial disorders and the brain.
10: Head Injuries, Part 1
Shift your attention from genetic wiring to brain damage. In this first of two lessons on head injuries, Professor Neargarder discusses the common symptoms and pathology of head injuries, the categories of head injuries, and the neuropsychology of closed-head injuries such as concussions.
11: Head Injuries, Part 2
Continue your study of head injuries with a look at some unusual conditions that can result from them. From visual agnosia to bomb-blast trauma to the chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) associated with sports injuries, take a clinical look at the causes and prevention of disorders from brain injury.
12: Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a disorder in which the protective coating on our nerve cells gets damaged and disrupts the signals that travel from our brain to various parts of the body. MS is complicated, affecting different people in different ways. This lesson examines what we know about this debilitating disorder.
13: Brain Tumors
You likely know that brain tumors are abnormal growths of tissue, but you might be shocked to find out there are roughly 120 different types of brain and central nervous system tumors. Here, you will examine the more common types of tumors and see what scientists know about causes and treatments.
14: Huntington’s, ALS, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob
Take a look at three rare but important brain disorders: Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Find out what we know about these neurodegenerative disorders—and what hope scientists have for understanding causes and cures.
15: Parkinson’s Disease, Part 1
This course opened with several lessons about disorders in childhood. Now shift your attention to a series of lessons about diseases that primarily affect older adults, starting with Parkinson’s disease. Here, learn the basics of the disease, signs and symptoms, and the underlying brain pathology.
16: Parkinson’s Disease, Part 2
Continue your survey of Parkinson’s disease with an investigation into how biological sex affects Parkinson’s disease. The side of disease onset (right or left) also affects how Parkinson’s presents itself. After reviewing these characteristics, the lesson turns to potential causes of the disorder and a review of current treatments.
17: Stroke, Part 1
Strokes are the leading cause of death in the United States and a major cause of serious disability in adults. In this first of two lessons, find out what exactly a stroke is (a cerebrovascular disease), learn about the different types of strokes, and review some of the common symptoms.
18: Stroke, Part 2
In this second exploration of strokes, review the risk factors, the types of aphasia (language disorder) that commonly occur after a stroke, and a strange condition known as alien hand syndrome. Build a checklist of things you can do to mitigate your risk, from quitting smoking to lowering cholesterol.
19: Alzheimer’s Disease, Part 1
Dementia refers to a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory. In your next two-part unit, you will explore the most common form of dementia: Alzheimer’s disease. Here, dive into the signs and symptoms of the disease, the neuropathy of the disorder, how it is diagnosed, and associated risk factors.
20: Alzheimer’s Disease, Part 2
Continue your study of Alzheimer’s disease with a look at preventative measures, pharmacological and nonpharmacological interventions, tips for helping people who have the disease, and associated research trends. Round out your lesson with a look at possible directions for future Alzheimer’s research.
21: Lewy Body Disease and Vascular Dementia
In addition to Alzheimer’s, there are many other forms of dementia—each with their own distinct neuropathology and cognitive deficits. In this lesson, learn about Lewy body disease dementia, Parkinson’s disease dementia, and vascular dementia. Explore the core symptoms and underlying, often mysterious causes.
22: FTD and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
Wrap up the unit on dementia with a survey of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. FTD is an umbrella term for a group of neurodegenerative disorders, often in patients younger than age 65. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is associated with an unusual impairment of memories.
23: Mild Cognitive Impairment
Mild cognitive impairment is a disorder that tends to precede the onset of various types of dementia. Because dementia is a progressive disorder, understanding mild cognitive impairment offers clues to prevention and treatment. Examine the differences between this disorder and the normal behaviors of aging.
24: The Future of Brain Research and Treatment
Although science has come a long way in solving the mysteries of the brain, we still have a long way to go. Round out this course with a look at the forefront of research, which is a combination of neurobiology, physics, engineering, big data science, and artificial intelligence. From imaging to diagnostics, get a first look at the future of brain science.