Monday, 18 February 2008

Alzheimer's patients retain their taste in art

As Alzheimer's disease wipes out a person's identity, their taste in art can remain stubbornly, wonderfully, intact. Andrea Halpern and colleagues hope their finding will bring encouragement to carers of people with the disease.

Seventeen healthy older adults and sixteen older adults with probable Alzheimer's disease were asked to place three sets of eight art post-cards in order of preference. One set depicted representational paintings (e.g. Hopper's People in the Sun), another set depicted quasi-representational paintings (e.g. Picasso's Weeping Woman), while the final set featured abstract art (e.g. Mondrian's Composition).

Two weeks later, the same participants were asked to once again arrange the cards in order of preference. There was relatively little change in the order the cards were put in, regardless of the type of art, and remarkably, the participants with Alzheimer's showed as much stability in their preferences as the healthy participants.

A second experiment with 20 controls and 20 Alzheimer's patients repeated the exact same procedure except that a recognition test for the pictures was included at the second session. The memory test showed that the patients had completely forgotten the pictures and yet, as in the first experiment, their aesthetic preference for the art showed the same stability as did the healthy participants'.

"In judging artworks," the researchers concluded, "people with and without dementia really do know what they like."

The researchers speculated that art preference may remain intact in people with Alzheimer's because aesthetic taste is based on procedural, implicit mental processes rather than the explicit, declarative processes that are so devastated by the disease. However, the patients tested here had mild dementia, so more research is needed to establish whether art preference is also preserved in people with more severe dementia.

HALPERN, A., LY, J., ELKIN-FRANKSTON, S., O'CONNOR, M.G. (2008). "I Know What I Like": Stability of aesthetic preference in alzheimer's patients. Brain and Cognition, 66(1), 65-72. DOI: 10.1016/j.bandc.2007.05.008

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Carol D. O'Dell said...

This is fascinating!

Art and music thereapy should be used more in care facilities. Sadly, most of them are little more than holding stations. They do some games, fill-in-the-blanks, karaoke, but for anyone who has any intellect at all, these activities, if not presented properly, are insulting.

Even as a caregiver for my mom who suffered from Alzhimer's and Parkinsons, I longed for stimulation and found my stress relief in art, poetry and nature.

I know because I speak to Alzheimer's Parkinson's, and caregiving groups around the country--and I see this first hand. We need to put more thought and respect into our elder-care system, and I hope that with the millions of boomers barreling toward their golden years that we'll make some stridesin that area (before I get there!)

I'm also one of those people who are quite drawn to art. I'm a "museum sobber."

Vincent Van Gogh and many other artists move me deeply and it's nice to know that this connection I feel toward art, nature, spirituality, life (I see all these as knots along one thread) will be there throughout my life.

~Carol D. O'Dell
Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir
availble on Amazon

Donnie said...

Had not heard of this study before - fascinating. Saw a dcoumentary not too long ago that looks at how the arts are being used to "treat" people with Alzheimer's - with remarkable results. here is youtube linke :

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