Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Rare brain disease gave scientist "a torrent of creativity"
POSTED BY CORY DOCTOROW, APRIL 8, 2008 9:13 AM | PERMALINK
Dr Anne Adams was a Canadian scientist who died of a rare brain disease -- frontotemporal dementia -- which caused her to give up her lab and engage in an ecstasy of creative effort (and an agony of frustration as her mathematical ability slipped away), mostly centered on Ravel's Bolero, a composition he wrote in the throes of the same disease.
“Anne spent every day from 9 to 5 in her art studio,” said Robert Adams, a retired mathematician. Early on, she painted architectural portraits of houses in the West Vancouver, British Columbia, neighborhood where they lived.
In 1994, Dr. Adams became fascinated with the music of the composer Maurice Ravel, her husband recalled. At age 53, she painted “Unravelling Bolero” a work that translated the famous musical score into visual form.
Unbeknown to her, Ravel also suffered from a brain disease whose symptoms were identical to those observed in Dr. Adams, said Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurologist and the director of the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco. Ravel composed “Bolero” in 1928, when he was 53 and began showing signs of his illness with spelling errors in musical scores and letters...
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.