Some Parkinson's Patients Discover Artistic Side
Inzelberg said it's possible that for certain Parkinson's patients, the medications lower inhibitions that once held back any creative impulses.
"It is also possible that dopamine is involved in creativity in general," Inzelberg said. That theory, she noted, is based on the observation that artists who suffer psychosis -- which involves excessive dopamine activity -- can become remarkably productive. Think Vincent Van Gogh.
That's all speculation, though. Experts know little about why some people on Parkinson's drugs suddenly find creative inspiration. But it does seem to be related to the medications themselves, agreed Dr. Anhar Hassan, an assistant professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who was not involved in the report.
"This does suggest that the medication is driving the behavior," Hassan said.
But, she added, "it would be giving false hope to imply to patients that if they start on medication, they'll become artistic."
While no one knows how common this medicated-related creativity might be, it is almost certainly far less common than negative side effects such as impulsive gambling. In her own study, Hassan found that about one in five patients on Parkinson's drugs developed some form of impulse-control problem.
Dr. Martin Niethammer, a neurologist at North Shore-LIJ's Cushing Neuroscience Institute in Great Neck, N.Y., said he's seen many patients who develop problems with impulse control while on Parkinson's medications, but only one or two who seemed to become more creative.
Both he and Hassan said the phenomenon is probably rare -- though it may be under-recognized because patients do not think to tell their doctors about it.
Another thing that's not clear, Niethammer said, is how many of the patients in the current report developed a "talent" in writing or painting, or simply an interest.
Of course, if the activity brings them pleasure, it doesn't really matter. "If this brings joy to people, then that's great," Niethammer said.
In some cases, the creative expression seems to bring more than enjoyment: It also seems to help some patients with their tremors, according to Inzelberg.
That's what happened for Dan Joseph. Painting seems to calm his tremors, and he feels like his vision becomes more "acute." "I've found that I can sit for hours and paint," said Joseph, who has also recently taken up poetry writing.