Researchers of a new study appear to have found a way to detect early signs of neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases in painters by looking at the patterns in their artworks.

Alex Forsythe, from the University of Liverpool in the UK, and colleagues analyzed more than 2,000 paintings by seven famous painters. Of the seven artists, two, namely Willem De Kooning and James Brooks, had Alzheimer's disease. Another two, Salvador Dali and Norval Morrisseau, had Parkinson's disease while the remaining three, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet, did not have records of having neurodegenerative diseases.


The researchers analyzed the paint strokes of the artists by applying non-traditional mathematics to patterns known as fractals, complex patterns that repeat themselves with mathematical precision at different scales. Fractals can be found in nature, such as in the branching patterns in trees, or created.

Fractal analysis has been used to check the authenticity of major works of arts.

Artists have unique fractal behaviors when they paint and computers can be used to accurately detect the pattern characteristics of renowned painters.

Previous analysis of 23 artworks painted by Jackson Pollock revealed a 100 percent success rate in the works' fractal content as opposed to the 100 percent failure rate in paintings that are of unknown origins.

Brushstrokes Can Predict Onset Of Neurodegenerative Diseases

For the new study, Forsythe and colleagues looked at the changes in the artists' unique fractals over time to see if these could indicate if the painters were headed for normal aging or likely to suffer from cognitive deterioration associated with neurodegenerative diseases.

The researchers found evident patterns of change in the fractal dimension of different painters. The changes revealed a clear distinction between the artists who developed neurological conditions and those who normally aged.

"Artists have a normal range, and even if they change genre changes, this 'fractal footprint' stays within a normal range," said Forsythe. "What we found in artists with Parkinson's disease is they started to increase their fractal dimensions. With the Alzheimer's the pattern is a decline from mid-life."

Based on the result of the analyses published in the journal Neuropsychology, the researchers suggest that the brushstrokes in paintings may help predict the onset of neurodegenerative diseases in painters.

"Our work adds to studies that demonstrate that fractal analysis has the potential to determine the provenance of paintings," the researchers wrote in their study. "Our work suggests that may be possible to identify a-typical changes in the structure of an artist's work; changes that may be early indicators of the onset of neurological deterioration."

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