Int. Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry: Art and the brain – a view from dementia

Published on 8th August 2013 in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry

Abstract

Art making encompasses a range of perceptual and cognitive functions involving widely distributed brain systems. The dementias impact on these systems in different ways, raising the possibility that each dementia has a unique artistic signature. Here we use a review of the visual art of 14 artists with dementia (five Alzheimer’s disease, seven fronto-temporal dementia and two dementia with Lewy bodies) to further our understanding of the neurobiological constituents of art production and higher artistic function. Artists with Alzheimer’s disease had prominent changes in spatial aspects of their art and attributes of colour and contrast. These qualities were preserved in the art of fronto-temporal dementia, which was characterised by perseverative themes and a shift towards realistic representation. The art of dementia with Lewy Bodies was characterised by simple, bizarre content. The limitations of using visual aspects of individual artworks to infer the impact of dementia on art production are discussed with the need for a wider perspective encompassing changes in cognition, emotion, creativity and artistic personality. A novel classificatory scheme is presented to help characterise neural mechanisms of higher artistic functions in future studies.

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