The brain is never truly resting. However, new research has shed light on the ways in which daydreaming is disrupted by dementia.
The study, conducted by former Dementia Australia Research Foundation researchers Dr Claire O’Callaghan and Associate Professor Muireann Irish, intended to quantify the capacity for day dreaming in Alzheimer’s disease and behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD). The second aim of the research was to characterise disease-related alterations across functional brain networks.
Daydreaming is defined as the natural tendency for our thoughts to drift off-task. Healthy people allow their brains to wander, and daydream half their waking lives. The frequency with which we daydream suggests it is fundamental to the human experience.
Associate Professor Irish revealed that damage to key structures of the brain’s default network blocks the ability to daydream for people living with frontotemporal dementia.
The results of the study suggest that under conditions of low cognitive demand, participants with Alzheimer’s disease achieved a form of daydreaming despite their structural and functional brain changes. However, compared to control subjects, participants with bvFTD displayed significantly reduced mind wandering capacity, suggesting that they have difficulty disengaging from the immediate environment and display a predominantly stimulus-bound style of thought.
The findings are significant as they reveal an area of cognitive dysfunction in people living with dementia that has received little attention in the past. This work is crucial to establish first insights into how damage to functional brain networks impacts internally-generated thought processes.