There are many cognitive functions that the brain performs on a daily basis. People can survive with traumatic brain injuries or strokes and still function to a point. The brain is an amazing organ that can be resilient and bounce back from brain injuries due to an accident or stroke, depending on which areas of the brain are affected. If certain areas of the brain are affected then the person could lose the ability to see, speak, remember, function, or even die. A person’s brain continues to change and develop throughout their lifetime, even if parts of the brain become necrotic due to dementia and other disorders.
The best known case of how a person can survive and have a relatively normal life after a brain injury was Phineas Gage. His story is an amazing one that is hard to believe. There are several parts of the brain that are responsible for the cognitive functions. One part of the brain that is responsible for cognitive functions is the amygdala. The amygdala is an almond shaped set of nuclei that control emotions such as fear, disgust, anger, and even pleasure. The amygdala is also responsible for what memories that the brain stores.
For this reason, if the amygdala is damaged, then a person might lose their ability to control their temper, or the ability to remember their childhood. Another part of the brain that is responsible for cognitive function is the Wernicke’s area and the Broca’s region. Both of these regions are named for the person who discovered them. They both are responsible for speech and how we talk. It is also involved in how a person understands written and spoken language. For this reason, if a person sustains damage to either of these areas, then they could lose the ability to speak or understand words that are spoken to them or written words.
The story of Phineas Gage is the most famous story of how neuroscience plays a part in a person’s survival. Back in 1848, in Cavendish, Vermont, Phineas Gage was a construction foreman working on a railroad bed when he was loading a hole in the ground with explosives. He was stuffing the explosives into the hole with a tampering iron when they went off and the forty-three inch long, thirteen pound tampering iron went through his left cheek and throughout his brain and out of the back of his skull.
The accident affected his frontal lobe of his brain and stories have indicated that he was never the same again. He became blind in his left eye. He spent ten weeks in the hospital under the care of Doctor John Harlow and then was sent home (Unknown, 2010). Harlow observed Gage the entire ten weeks. He was unable to hold a foreman’s job again. Unfortunately, his recovery was not a complete success. The once likable and friendly man became fitful, irreverent, and grossly profane. He worked odd jobs from that time until his death in 1860 from seizures due to his injury.
Harlow wrote that he was never the same after his injury and that “the balance between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities seemed gone. ” He could not stick to plans, uttered the grossest profanity, and showed little deference for his fellows (Twomey, 2010). The reason that the case of Phineas Gage became so popular and famous was because it was the first case of its kind where brain injury and personality changes correlated and became prominent in the field of neuroscience. This was the first case where it was proven that brain injuries can affect how a person acts in their behaviors.
Gage sustained damage to the frontal lobe of the brain and Dr. Harlow even claims that Gage never lost consciousness due to his injury. After his death, Dr. Harlow had Gage’s body exhumed and studied both the skull and the tampering iron before donating both to the Warren Anatomical Museum for display. This was after he authored reports of the case of Phineas Gage. There have been increasingly more cases of Traumatic Brain Injuries causing damage to the brain, especially in the past decade of the war in the Middle East.
These injuries are paving the way for the world of cognitive psychology and neuroscience for how to treat the damage to the brain. The most famous case so far in history has been the case of Phineas Gage. He proved that the damage to the frontal lobe can affect how a person acts and their behaviors. With the technology that is becoming available, we should be able to make more and more strides in the subject of brain injuries. Hopefully someday, we can find how to treat these brain injuries from accidents and strokes and possibly cure them.