A new study has shown Alzheimer's disease can unlock artistic abilities the patient never knew they had.
Australian scientists have confirmed anecdotal evidence that creative skills such as painting, drawing or singing, which were not previously evident in an individual, can emerge or improve in people with Alzheimer's and frontotemporal dementia.
"Our study shows that individuals with dementia can display creative behaviours and skills despite also experiencing the cognitive and functional decline that is typical of dementia," said lead author Associate Professor Olivier Piguet.
The study conducted by Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), one of the largest independent centres of research on the brain and nervous system in Australia, analysed the responses of 185 carers who completed a questionnaire that quizzed them about changes in patients' behaviour.
The Hypersensory and Social/Emotional Scale (HSS) was developed in collaboration with visiting Japanese scholar Akira Midorikawa, an expert in neuropsychology.
Significant changes in sensory processing were also recorded in the study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
One possible explanation for the positive emergence of the creative abilities, is that as brain tissue wastes away, "spared" functions found in regions of the brain less-affected by the disease are released.
"Music activities, for instance, appear to rely on widespread brain networks where brain pathology is not as severe as the regions supporting other cognitive activities, such as memory or language, that tend to decline markedly in people with dementia," said Assoc Prof Piguet.
It's hoped this positive news will help shift the focus a little from what someone with dementia may lose to the skills they retain, or even gain, for the benefit of the patient and carers.