When dementia releases artistic talents

KQED Quest has another excellent online feature where they discuss the curious effect where some patients with fronto-temporal dementia, a form of degenerative brain disease, suddenly have burst of creative talent creating some stunning and original works.

The videos were taken at UCSF over the course of many hours doctors spent studying Keith and his symptoms. In them, we glimpse of two of Keith’s FTD-caused obsessions: joke telling and music. (We also see one of the first symptoms to have emerged: his Jerry Garcia hairdo.)

At first glance, Keith‚Äôs behavior might strike you as more eccentric than brain-damaged, which is precisely why FTD can take so long to diagnose. If you‚Äôre a doctor with a 15-minute appointment slot, frontotemporal dementia might just look like a midlife crisis…

FTD can turn Democrats into Republicans, and vice versa. People with no interest in art begin to paint obsessively. As the neurons in Keith’s right frontotemporal lobe (just behind the right eyebrow) died, his taste in music, his sense of humor, his relationships with his family members and friends changed completely. Our self, in other words, may owe much more to the way our brains are built than we’d care to acknowledge.

It’s probably worth making clear that this is quite a rare effect. Most people with FTD will not become artistically inspired.

More common effects are problems with inhibiting behaviour sometimes leading to problems with appropriate social interaction (largely owing to frontal lobe damage) and difficulties with language and meaning (largely owing to the problems with the temporal lobes).

But because dementia trends to affect the brain in a progressive but patchy way, it can sometimes result quite unusual or surprising symptoms.

The Quest programme is a radio show, a video of Keith Jordan – a patient affected by FTD, and a narrated photo essay.

Another great production from Quest, who we featured recently because of their similarly high-quality programme on the curious pseudobulbar affect.

If you’re interested in more information on the release of artistic talents after FTD, we featured a fantastic New York Times article on the same topic which makes a great complement to the Quest programme.

Link to Quest radio programme.
Link to Quest video section.
Link to Quest narrated photo essay.

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