Dopamine Therapy Instilling Improved Mobility, Creativeness In Parkinson’s Patients
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Health experts around the world are talking about a remarkable phenomenon seen in Parkinson’s patients that was first noticed by researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine over the holidays.
Professor Rivka Inzelberg said patients she treated at Sheba Medical Center clinic had skipped bringing the usual presents of chocolate, flowers and knick-knacks in over the holiday season and had instead brought in works of art that they had made themselves.
The remarkableness of this has to do with a drug that has been administered to many of these patients to increase dopamine activity in the brain as a therapy for loss of motor skills that come with tremors and muscle rigidity.
Inspired by the discovery, Inzelberg further sought out evidence elsewhere to ensure it wasn’t a fluke seen only in her practice. By researching other case studies around the world, Inzelberg analyzed the data to come to the conclusion that all of the patients she encountered had been treated with either synthetic precursors of dopamine or dopamine receptor agonists.
Publishing her findings in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience, Inzelberg said dopamine’s main purpose is to aid in the transmission of motor commands; a lack of dopamine in patients with Parkinson’s leads to tremors and difficulty in coordinating movement. However, dopamine is also involved in the brain’s “reward system”—such as the satisfaction or happiness that we feel when we accomplish something positive.
Inzelberg believes this “reward system” is what is being associated with the increase in activity and creativity seen in Parkinson’s patients. Dopamine and artistry have long been connected, added Inzelberg, citing the example of Vincent Van Gogh, who suffered from psychosis. She said it is entirely possible that his creativity was the result of his psychosis, believed to be caused by spontaneous spiking of dopamine in the brain.
Inzelberg said there seems to be no limit to the types of artistry for which patients develop talents. One case involves an architect who began to draw and paint human figures after treatment, and another who, after treatment, became a prize-winning poet though never being artistic before the disease struck.
It may be possible that these patients are expressing latent talents they never had the courage to follow beforehand, said Inzelberg. It’s entirely possible that impulse has a lot to do with it as well. Dopamine therapies have also been associated with obsessional activities, such as excessive gambling. The increase in artistic drive could be linked to this lowering of inhibitions, allowing patients to embrace creativity in a way that had never felt inclined to do beforehand. Some patients went as far as to say their dosage levels played into their creativeness, saying the higher the doses are, the more creative they become.
Inzelberg said this finding could prove promising therapeutically, both on the psychological and physiological front. She said her patients have all expressed happier feelings and have noted their motor handicaps were less severe. Evidence of this is seen in patients who were normally restricted to wheelchairs or walkers, yet have gone on to create works of art that have been featured in art galleries around the world.
External stimuli can sometimes bypass motor issues and foster normal movement, Inzelberg explained. She said similar types of therapy are already used for dementia and stroke patients to help mitigate the loss of verbal communication skills.
She said the next step will be to try and characterize those patients who become more creative through treatment by comparing them to patients who do not experience growth in artistic output.
“We want to screen patients under treatment for creativity and impulsivity to see if we can identify what is unique in those who do become more creative,” Inzelberg said in a statement. She said she also believes that such research could provide valuable insights into creativity in healthy populations, as well.