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Dopaminergic Therapy Spurs Creativity in People with Parkinson's Disease
- Jul 22 2014
People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) who take dopaminergic medications show enhanced creativity, according to a study published in the June issue of the Annals of Neurology.
Over the years, there have been anecdotal accounts of people living with Parkinson’s disease who experience a sudden emergence of artistic creativity after being treated with dopaminergic therapy. Examples include a person who within a month of starting treatment for PD, suddenly began writing poetry, and went on to become an award-winning poet. Yet it has been unclear whether medications lead to creativity directly or more indirectly, as part of side effects called impulse control disorders (ICDs), which are pathological in nature, and include unhealthy levels of gambling, shopping, eating and sexual activity.
Researchers led by Rivka Inzelberg, M.D., of the Joseph Sagol Neuroscience Center at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Aviv University in Israel were interested in learning more. The researchers assessed the creative skills of 27 people with Parkinson’s disease who were taking dopaminergic medications (average age 62, who had a high school education or higher) with a matched control group of 27 people without Parkinson’s disease. Participants took a series of tests that assessed skills such as verbal fluency, word association and original thinking. To determine if ICD was a factor in enhancing creativity, participants were also assessed for impulsive behavior, such as gambling and shopping.
- Participants with PD, all of whom were treated with dopaminergic drugs, demonstrated enhanced verbal and visual creativity as compared to the neurologically healthy control group.
- Higher scores on a test of visual creativity were correlated with higher doses of dopaminergic medications, but also with decreased verbal fluency.
- Enhanced creativity was not correlated with the presence of impulse control disorders.
What Does It Mean?
In recent years, researchers have become increasingly interested in the relationship between dopaminergic drugs commonly used to treat Parkinson’s disease, such as levodopa and dopamine agonists, and enhanced artistic creativity.
Using an array of psychological testing, this study demonstrated that people with PD taking dopaminergic medications do, in fact, have increased measures of creativity compared to participants who do not live with Parkinson’s disease. More importantly, it found that enhanced creativity was not associated with impulse control disorders, potential complications of certain PD medications.
As the authors indicate, the good news is that if people with PD do show artistic abilities, creativity has potential to improve quality of life with PD. For example, the authors recommend that creativity could be integrated into occupational therapy. PDF also invites those with PD to join the already more than 400 artists contributing to its Creativity and Parkinson’s Project, which initially arose from feedback in the community about the link between creativity and the disease.
The study does have limitations. For example, it only evaluated a small sample of participants for a short period of time. It did not examine the relationship between duration of dopaminergic treatment and creative ability.
It is still not known exactly why dopaminergic medications boost creativity. One possible explanation is that dopaminergic drugs lower inhibition, which may expand a person’s creativity and “outside the box” thinking. Additionally, people with PD exhibit more impulsivity as measured in a laboratory setting – even off medication. It is possible that a subset of people with PD may have a greater creative capacity as a result of their disease, which can be the case in other neurodegenerative diseases, such as frontotemporal dementia.
Further research is needed to increase understanding of the relationship between PD, dopamine and creative thinking. Evaluating people with PD using functional neuroimaging may provide more valuable information regarding neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the creative thinking process.
The Creativity and Parkinson's Project exists to explore, support and encourage the therapeutic value of creativity in Parkinson's. Browse our online gallery or submit creative works (painting, photography, poetry and more) at www.pdf.org/creativity.
Reference: Faust-Socher, A, Kenett, YN, Cohen, OS, Hassin-Baer, S, Inzelberg, R (2014) Enhanced Creative Thinking under Dopaminergic Therapy in Parkinson Disease. Annals of Neurology 75: 935-942. Published online before print June 10, 2014. DOI: 10.1002/ana.24181 http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ana.24181
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Source Date: Jul 22 2014