One-Night Performance of Acclaimed Play UnRavelled Examines Art, Science, and Dementia

UnRavelled Performance Images

AFTD staff and Board members attended a performance of the play UnRavelled at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on July 21. AFTD sponsored the play to raise FTD awareness and elevate the stories and perspectives of our resilient community.

Written by Jake Broder, an Atlantic Fellow at the Global Brain Health Institute, UnRavelled examines how Canadian painter scientist Anne Adams (1940–2007) developed as a painter following her FTD diagnosis and became a remarkable artist. Through her story, the play also uncovers the mystery of French composer Maurice Ravel’s (1875–1937) similar diagnosis almost 100 years earlier. It ended with a symphonic performance of Ravel’s most famous composition, Boléro.

“Ravel and Dr. Adams were in the early stages of primary progressive aphasia, a form of frontotemporal dementia, when they were working,” said Dr. Bruce Miller, co-director of the Global Brain Health Institute. “The disease apparently altered circuits in their brains, changing the connections between the front and back parts and resulting in a torrent of creativity.”

“Hope embedded in this story brings together doctors, nurses, caregivers, mothers, daughters, fathers, and people living with different subtypes of dementia,” said Jake Broder, who spent several years studying neuroscience and interviewing Dr. Miller to create the play. (Dr. Miller, an emeritus member of AFTD’s Medical Advisory Council, treated Adams.) “They have wept, shared, and seen themselves and their loved ones in a new way for the first time, experiencing something more than just pain when thinking about dementia,” Broder added.

The play was also sponsored by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and The Global Brain Health Institute. UCSF is a leading university in FTD research and has a Memory & Aging Center that focuses on dementias including FTD. The Global Brain Health Institute is a leader in the global community dedicated to protecting the world’s aging populations from threats to brain health.

Immediately following the performance, AFTD CEO Susan L-J Dickinson, MSGC joined a panel to discuss the play, FTD, and how FTD research is advancing. “UnRavelled uses art to shine a light on our FTD community and raise awareness,” she said. “Although the ‘torrent of creativity’ that both Anne Adams and the composer Ravel experienced as their PPA advanced is extremely rare, the play so poignantly portrays how FTD impacts all of the relationships in a family, not just the person with the diagnosis.”

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