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Explore the brain

Your brain is the hardest-working part of your body. It’s in charge of everything you think, feel, say and do. Scientists are learning about the brain to find new ways to beat the illnesses that cause dementia.

Click the hotspots or scroll down to learn more about how your amazing brain works and play our brain games.

Frontal lobe

What it does...

Your frontal lobe is like the boss of your brain, and the rest of your body. It’s hard at work when you think, plan, solve problems, and make decisions. It helps you to start tasks, and stay focused.

This part of your brain also helps you to imagine things (like what would happen if you stood up and started dancing in the middle of a maths lesson). It helps you choose between good and bad actions.

Have you ever felt angry, jealous or sad, but tried not to show it? Your frontal lobe helps you to filter your emotions and control your behaviour. It shapes your whole personality.

How it’s affected...

If a person’s frontal lobe isn’t working very well, their behaviour and personality may change. They may do or say things they would never have done before they were ill. Frontotemporal dementia affects this area of the brain. Sometimes people with this illness might struggle to understand how you’re feeling or may not show concern for you if you’re sad or unwell. They might make jokes that embarrass you or lose interest in some of the activities they used to enjoy. This is all because of the damage to frontal lobes.

  • Personality
  • Emotions
  • Behaviour

Did you know?

Your brain has two of each lobe – one on the right side, and one on the left side. The left half of the brain controls the right side of your body, and the right half controls the left side of your body.

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Parietal lobe

What it does...

Your senses are always busy collecting information about space, touch and movement. Your parietal lobe helps your brain to make sense of this information.

Thanks to your parietal lobe, you can think in 3D. You know how far to reach to pick up an object, and you don’t bump into things as you walk along. This part of your brain is also hard at work whenever you read, write and or use numbers.

How it’s affected...

Damage to the parietal lobe makes it harder for a person to judge distances, and work out where objects are compared to their body. They may walk into things or knock things over, and have problems putting clothes on, or climbing stairs.

  • Ordering
  • Body Control

Did you know?

Close your eyes and clap your hands together. Did they touch? Thanks to your parietal lobe, you have a sense of where your arms and legs are.

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Temporal lobe and hippocampus

What it does...

This part of your brain helps you understand things you see and hear. The temporal lobe is active when you listen to music, recognise your friends and family, or have a conversation. It helps you to remember facts about the world, and the meaning of words.

The hippocampus is hidden inside the temporal lobe. It’s the part of your brain that lets you make new memories. It also helps you to recall memories – things that have happened to you, and places you have been.

How it’s affected...

The hippocampus is often the first area of the brain harmed by Alzheimer’s disease. Once it has been damaged, it becomes hard or impossible to make new memories. A person with a damaged hippocampus may forget things they have only just said or done.

Some rarer types of dementia may cause particular damage to parts of the temporal lobe. People with these types of dementia may have problems remembering the names of people and objects, and the meaning of words. This can make speaking very difficult and frustrating.

  • Memory
  • Language
  • Recognition

Did you know?

Imagine that all your memories are like a personal Internet. The hippocampus is the ‘search engine’ that helps you to find and replay them.

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Occipital lobe

What it does...

Your sense of sight is so important that your brain has a lobe devoted to working out what you are seeing.

The information that your eyes collect – about shape, size, colour and movement – is sent straight to your occipital lobe. It compares this information with memories stored in other parts of the brain, to help you to make sense of everything you see.

How it’s affected...

If a person’s occipital lobe is damaged they can have problems noticing and recognising objects that they are looking at. They may be able to recognise an object by touching or hearing it instead. The occipital lobe is the first area of the brain affected by a rare form of dementia known as posterior cortical atrophy, or PCA.

  • Vision

Did you know?

The occipital lobe doesn’t get a break when you are sleeping. It helps to produce your dreams.

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Nerve cells

Our brains are made up of many different types of cells. Around half of these are nerve cells. These cells are brilliant at sending messages to each other.

Everything you remember, think, say and feel happens because messages are travelling between nerve cells in your brain.

Your brain has billions of nerve cells, which make trillions of connections with each other. These networks of connections are built as we grow and learn, so they are different for every person. They store our memories, and let us think, feel and speak. It’s the unique connections in your brain that help to make you who you are.

How do nerve cells become damaged?

The illnesses that cause dementia all damage or kill nerve cells in the brain. When a nerve cell is harmed, the networks of connections that it was a part of can become damaged too.

The damage can happen in different ways. In vascular dementia, nerve cells are harmed because blood vessels in the brain aren’t bringing enough food and oxygen.

In Alzheimer’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia, the damage may be caused by proteins that build up in or around nerve cells. This stops the nerve cells from working properly, and eventually causes them to die.

Scientists are looking for ways to stop these proteins building up and causing harm.

Cell body Dendrites Axon Synapse
Tau tangles Amyloid plaques
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Proteins

Important molecules that are the building blocks of our bodies. Many proteins do specific jobs like maintaining the structure of a cell, transporting important cargo around cells or helping cells to communicate.

Dendrites

Short branches of a nerve cell that receive signals sent from other cells and send them towards the cell body.

Cell body

The largest part of the nerve cell that contains many important structures as well as genetic information which tells the cell what to do.

Axon

The long tail of a nerve cell. Electrical signals travel along axons towards synapses.

Synapse

The point at which one nerve cell connects to another. Chemical messengers are released to bridge the gap between nerve cells at synapses. There are trillions of these connections in your brain.

Amyloid plaques

Sticky clumps of amyloid protein that form around nerve cells in Alzheimer’s disease. These plaques are thought to trigger other changes, which cause damage to cells.

Tau tangles

Twisted strands of tau protein that stop nerve cells from working properly. These tangles build up in Alzheimer’s disease and some kinds of frontotemporal dementia.

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