Friday, May 09, 2008

Frontotemporal Dementia

I recently read an interesting case of a doctor/scientist who, after seeing her son make a miraculous recovery, retired from science to pursue art:
Trained in mathematics, chemistry and biology, Dr. Adams left her career as a teacher and bench scientist in 1986 to take care of a son who had been seriously injured in a car accident and was not expected to live. But the young man made a miraculous recovery. After seven weeks, he threw away his crutches and went back to school.

According her husband, Robert, Dr. Adams then decided to abandon science and take up art. She had dabbled with drawing when young, he said in a recent telephone interview, but now she had an intense all-or-nothing drive to paint.

At one stage of her illness, she became fascinated by the composer Ravel and his work Bolero, and went on to paint a piece entitled Unraveling Bolero (nice pun, eh?).

Ravel and Dr. Adams were in the early stages of a rare disease called FTD, or frontotemporal dementia, when they were working, Ravel on “Bolero” and Dr. Adams on her painting of “Bolero,” Dr. Miller said. The disease apparently altered circuits in their brains, changing the connections between the front and back parts and resulting in a torrent of creativity.

“We used to think dementias hit the brain diffusely,” Dr. Miller said. “Nothing was anatomically specific. That is wrong. We now realize that when specific, dominant circuits are injured or disintegrate, they may release or disinhibit activity in other areas. In other words, if one part of the brain is compromised, another part can remodel and become stronger.”

The evolution of our understanding of the disease is fascinating. Heh, honestly though, the description of her disease initially kind of sounded like bipolar disorder to me. Guess I still have a lot left to learn.


  1. Yeah...regarding that bipolar aspect. I always find it fascinating how we can relate (or cannot most of the time) organic changes in the brain to behavioural/emotional/psychiatric anomalies. FTD is a good example. Compared to many, painting is very benign, but how the disease progresses is of course the thing.

  2. I agree. I think this story had particular significance due to the degree of insight the patient had into their own condition, which helps us all understand this link between organic condition and changes in expression much more comprehensively.



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