Norepinephrine (NE) is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in mental health. It is one of more than 50 neurotransmitters in the nervous system's arsenal.
When neurotransmitters are firing efficiently, in proper balance and in correct proportion with one other, we are able to think our thoughts, experience and express our emotions, and have complete possession of our faculties.
As long as this system is fully functional, life is good. Every day tasks are a snap and the world is our oyster. Our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work in harmony, and stress is well-tolerated and dealt with.
Norepinephrine plays a significant role in the sympathetic nervous system, affecting the adrenal medulla in the brain, the heart and cardiovascular system, sweat glands, and a number of internal organs. It also participates in blood pressure, dreams, sleep and physical movement.
Norepinephrine, along with epinephrine (adrenaline), increases blood pressure and heart rate, and triggers the Fight or Flight response, preparing the individual for stressful situations.
When norepinephrine is in proper balance with other neurotransmitters, the individual will be alert, with excellent long-term memory, and will retain what they learn. Because it also keeps endorphins from breaking down too soon, the individual can experience a great sense of well-being, even in situations that are stressful. However, too much norepinephrine can lead to anxiety and fearfulness.
In the case of dementia, the delicate interplay of neurotransmitters has broken down. Once out of proper balance, each will play a part in the new dysfunction throwing the brain and nervous system into disarray. Too many or too few of these neurotransmitters can contribute to anxiety, depression, aggression, hostility, and psychosis.
The person suffering from dementia, and whose supply of norepinephrine is out of kilter, may experience apathy or fatigue, and have trouble concentrating. They may struggle with depression.
They may also experience an excessive response of norepinephrine to any and all stressors, large or small, with magnified agitation and fear.