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Memory and Aging Center hosts visiting artist program

My name's Bruce Miller.  I'm Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry here at UCSF and I run the Memory and Aging Center. We are focused around research related to degenerative diseases associated with aging. I focus particularly on a group of patients who develop slowly progressive language disturbances.  This is called primary progressive aphasia and a surprisingly high number of these individuals come from an artistic background or develop artistic abilities in the setting of this degenerative disease.

We have an art program associated with the Alzheimer's Association where we get patients to practice painting, to work on their visual skills. we often see very unusual shapes, explosion of color, very unusual paintings focused around emotions.  So I think what you get from these patients is put on paper often they're internal view of the world from the mind's eye, what they can't express with words. 

I think one of the really exciting things that happened to our program was in 2006 when we were able to have an exhibit at Yerba Buena Art Institute, showing some of the incredible pieces of work that our patients had produced. Remarkably, some of it produced by people who were totally unable to speak or even talk about the art that they had produced.

We've set up a visiting artist program.  And I think this program began with an incredible artist, very interested in the brain and also very interested in Alzheimer's Disease; a young woman called Deborah Aschheim. she created art that I think is very visual that is focused around how the brain works. So her art exhibits actually give you a bird's eye view of what neurons are like; how they fire, how they're connected to other brain cells. and I think it's really wonderful to see the patients come up to this art piece which is big, blue, gorgeous and huge lights associated with it.  and watching them look at the art, thinking about the brain, thinking about their own brains.

I think the study of patients with neurologic problems, study of healthy aging; these are things that I think are really going to give us a full picture of how the brain works.  And I think also give us insight into the arts and creativity.