Resources

Neurodegeneration

Introduction

You may not have heard the term ‘neurodegeneration’ or ‘neurodegenerative disease’ before, but you will no doubt be familiar with the term ‘dementia’ and perhaps have (or know someone with) an elderly relative suffering from this terrible disease. Dementia is an example of a neurodegenerative disease, and it is in fact an umbrella term encompassing a range of different diseases, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease.

During this section, you will learn more about the many different types of dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. We will discuss causes, symptoms and current treatments available. Most importantly we will address the inevitable rise in the number of cases over the coming years and the devastating socio-economic impact this will have.

What is Neurodegeneration?

Neurodegeneration refers to the progressive decline and eventual death (i.e. degeneration) of a group of brain cells termed ‘neurons’.

Neurons are a key cell type in the human nervous system, making up both the central nervous system (CNS) (the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). They communicate with each other using electrical impulses, sending signals to produce a response to particular stimuli.

There are a number of different types of neuron; sensory neurons which are responsible for detecting stimuli and sending impulses to the CNS, motor neurons which transmit impulses from the CNS to effectors such as muscles and interneurons which relay information between the other two.

Task 1: Visit the following pages and learn more about the basics of the human nervous system

https://www.abpischools.org.uk/topic/nervoussystem

Neurons cannot typically repair or replace themselves and therefore damage or death of these cells is catastrophic. The inability to correctly respond to stimuli leads to problems with mental function and/or movement.

The brain is a complex structure, comprised of the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain. Each of these areas is divided into many other specialised regions, each having dedicated function(s). If damage occurs/neurons die in any of these areas, this can lead to one of the many types of neurodegenerative disease.

For example, damage to the basal ganglia (an area usually involved in both cognition and voluntary movement) can lead to Parkinson’s disease. This will be discussed in more detail in activity 4.

Task 2: Visit the following page and learn more about the main brain regions and their functions. Can you think of what diseases may be caused by damage to any of them?

https://www.mayfieldclinic.com/PE-AnatBrain.htm

As you have seen already, there are many different neurodegenerative diseases which are a result of damage to different regions of the brain. However all of these diseases have the common feature of declining or dying neurons.

Resource activities

What Causes Neurodegeneration?

The underlying cause of most neurodegenerative diseases is not fully understood. Find out more about the research happening in this area.

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Alzheimer’s Disease (and other Dementias)

Alzheimer's Disease is the most common type of neurodegeneration, with an estimated 850,000 people in the UK currently suffering from the disease. Find out more about this disease in this activity.

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Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that, unlike Alzheimer’s disease and dementia which we have discussed in previous activities, is mainly a movement disorder. Find out more about PD and how it may be similar to Alzheimer's.

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Motor Neuron Disease

Motor Neuron Disease is a term commonly used in the UK for a group of disorders, the most common of which is Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Understand more about this group of disorders.

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Why is the Number of Cases on the Rise?

Why are the number of cases on the rise? Explore this question in this activity.

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Activity questions

  • What is meant by the term ‘neurodegeneration’?
  • Give 5 examples of neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Discuss the similarities and differences between Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Reflective questions

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Task 1

What are the key arguments, concepts, points contained within it?

Task 2

What are you struggling to understand?

What could you do to improve your understanding of these concepts/terminology etc.?

Task 3

What further questions has this resource raised for you?

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Can you make any links between this topic and your prior knowledge or school studies?

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