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Monday, January 16, 2017

People with dementia may turn to art

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Scientists are doing research on people with Alzheimer's disease and other brain disorders to help unravel how the brain works and why these people are interested in creating art. In increasing numbers, people with Alzheimer's disease are picking up paintbrushes or putting drawing pencils to paper. Some turn to art only after Alzheimer's disease has set in, and they may even be inspired by it. Both groups are helping researchers unravel the complicated and intertwined ways that biology produces creativity, including the contributions of inhibition, obsession and other personality traits. "There are virtually no situations where brain damage makes things better," says Anjan Chatterjee, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia , who is working on a book about art and the brain. But art is, he adds, one of the few complex aspects of human cognition that doesn't necessarily get worse.
"Think of a mobile where you have different weights that settle into some kind of equilibrium," he says. "If you take away certain weights, the whole system readjusts. In some instances, the art ends up being just as beautiful.
"In other cases, it's more beautiful."

Lester Potts had never picked up a paintbrush before his Alzheimer's diagnosis in 2001, at the age of 72. He had worked in a rural Alabama sawmill through the Great Depression. He served in the Korean War and grew into an even-keeled and dependable civic leader. But when his brain disorder struck, Potts lost the ability to take care of himself, and he sank into depression.
Painting with watercolors as part of a therapy program buoyed him, says his son, Daniel C. Potts. Even more surprising, his father had talent. When Lester brought home his first creation '" a bright purple and yellow hummingbird with green wings and a red head '" his wife asked him who gave him such a beautiful painting

As Lester's disease progressed, his paintings evolved too. And even though he lost the ability to talk or write before his death in 2007, his artwork continued to feature themes from his youth, offering comfort to his family and a fascinating look into the brain of someone with a degenerative and still-mysterious disease.

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