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March 11, 2016

WHAT DOES THE FRONTAL LOBE DO?

Imagine a sprawling business, filled with front-line workers, managers, and officers of varying levels. From the entry levels to the executive team, information crucial for the business’ survival and health shoot up to the CEOs office. The CEO then makes a decision for the whole company based on the information she receives from her officers. It is her job to arrange and interpret the information for the sake of the whole, creating strategies that respond to the market insightfully.

This is the frontal lobe’s job.

In an ideal situation, the frontal lobe takes information received by your senses and gathered by your brain’s other lobes. At its most fundamental, the frontal lobe’s job is to generate movement. It is the captain, the quarterback, the hub of your being where information becomes response, where sensation becomes strategy. They create the body’s response to the environment—which is half of the brain’s primary function, as we discussed in last week’s blog.

In animals where the frontal lobe is smaller, their responses are much simpler. Fight or flight. Run away or approach closer. However, humans have highly developed frontal lobes, which means we have access to a fuller spectrum of responses. It is our frontal lobes that make us capable of sophisticated, higher-level thinking—it’s why the frontal lobe has been called “the seat of human existence.”

What sort of things does the frontal lobe allow us to do?

  • To prioritize tasks and risks
  • To form moral or ethical stances
  • To respond to memories
  • To be capable of feeling emotions

It is the frontal lobe that allows us to form relationships, to build civilizations, to create agreements or truces, to create amazing and complex structures, both physical and political. Love, grief, indignation, poetry, storytelling, art—these are all the benefits of a complex and powerful frontal lobe. It is also why it is so devastating when the frontal lobe becomes damaged or degenerates over time.

Remember, the frontal lobe’s job is to receive environmental information from the other parts of the brain and create a suitable response. When the frontal lobe fails to receive information accurately, it cannot create an accurate response. Keep in mind our CEO metaphor—if a CEO receives poor information, then no matter how insightful or skilled she is, her response will always be flawed.

In the same way, frontal lobes that are not functioning well keep people from making appropriate decisions. Frontal lobe damage means they cannot support their own survival or make socially-appropriate decisions. They have a difficult time controlling or managing their emotions, and we’ve seen cases where people began lying or cheating as a result of their frontal lobe damage.

Ultimately, the root of these issues is the way the frontal lobe perceives and sorts out the information from the parietal, temporal, or occipital lobe. Until recently, there has been few ways to measure the frontal lobe’s performance. However, neuroscientists have recently begun employing the UPDRS, or the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale, along with neurocognitive testing, reaction time evaluation, and eye movement. Since Parkinson’s is a disease of the motor system, and the frontal lobe is the central “decision-maker” of physical movement for your body, this rating can provide insight into the way your frontal lobe is functioning.

WHAT CAN BE DONE FOR A DAMAGED FRONTAL LOBE?

At Plasticity Brain Centers, we use the UPDRS (as well as other tools and tests) in order to help determine where our patients need correction or therapy. If the frontal lobe is having issues, we create effective and targeted therapies to exercise the frontal lobe, essentially reteaching it to perceive and organize information accurately. When the frontal lobe can receive information accurately, it can then create accurate responses.

While all of this sounds very clinical (and it is, in practice), the effects of our therapy are far from theoretical. People’s lives, their personality and their spirit, depend on their frontal lobe. Without our frontal lobes, we’re strangers—even to ourselves. It is our role and our honor to help people rebuild their lives and reclaim hope by helping calibrate and heal their frontal lobe.

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