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Some Parkinson's Patients Discover Artistic Side

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THURSDAY, Jan. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Some people with Parkinson's disease discover untapped artistic abilities after their diagnosis -- a phenomenon that seems to be related to their dopamine-enhancing medication.

Over the years, reports have popped up in the medical literature on Parkinson's patients who suddenly discover they are painters, sculptors or writers at heart.

Dan Joseph is one of them. After being diagnosed with the movement disorder a dozen years ago, the former doctor eventually took up painting. But it wasn't because he planned on becoming an artist.

"A friend of mine said, 'You're not doing anything. Why don't you paint?'" said Joseph, a 79-year-old Santa Barbara, Calif., resident.

He decided to follow that advice and soon discovered that when he painted, his hand tremors improved. He also discovered that he actually had talent; about six years after first picking up a paintbrush, Joseph has had three solo art exhibitions.

No one knows how common it is for Parkinson's patients to find their inner painter or creative writer, according to Dr. Rivka Inzelberg, of Tel Aviv University and Sheba Medical Center, in Israel.

But when she pulled together past case reports on 14 such patients, Inzelberg found that the phenomenon does appear to be related to treatment with levodopa and so-called dopamine agonists -- Parkinson's drugs that enhance the action of the brain chemical dopamine.

One patient, for example, suddenly became interested in creative writing after starting levodopa and a dopamine agonist. That interest waned, however, when the drug doses were cut, Inzelberg reported in the Jan. 14 online edition of the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.

Parkinson's disease arises when dopamine-producing cells in the brain die off over time. That leads to symptoms such as tremors, rigid muscles, slowed movement and balance problems. Levodopa and dopamine agonists -- drugs like Requip (ropinirole) and Mirapex (pramipexole) -- help make up for that dopamine loss.

But dopamine is not only involved in movement; it's also connected to the brain's "reward system." And it's well known that some Parkinson's patients on dopamine-enhancing drugs develop so-called impulse-control disorders -- such as compulsive gambling and hypersexuality (commonly known as "sex addiction").

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