3 April 2009

Did Agatha Christie have Alzheimer's?

Many thanks to Janet Rudolph at Mystery Fanfare for highlighting the original article about this.

In some recent research Sixteen novels—including Christie’s first, written at age 28, and her last, composed at 82, three years before her death in 1976—were put through a “computational-linguistic” screen to analyze vocabulary and phrase repetition. Use of indefinite nouns and the indefinite article “thing” increased significantly over time, they found, as did phrase repetition, while vocabulary declined by 15 to 30 per cent. The most precipitous change occurs in Christie’s penultimate novel, Elephants Can Remember, written when she was 81; it contained a 30 per cent drop in vocabulary compared to her writing at age 63, 18 per cent more repeated phrases, and a nearly threefold increase in indefinite nouns.

Read more on the blog posting The Ultimate whodunit.

It seems to me that the research may be reading something into the late Agatha Christie books that is barely there. Mind you, if I'm still in charge of all my vocabulary when I'm 81, it will be a great cause for celebration. I don't know of many 81 year olds of my close acqauaintance writing blogs, or for that matter books.

Tell me some writers who are still productive today at over 81.
Here is a starting list. Who can you add?
Let's see, 81 this year would mean they were born in or before 1928

PD James - 89, born in 1920
Dick Francis - 89 born in 1920
Andrea Camilleri - 84, born in 1925
Elmore Leonard - 84, born in 1925


Dorte H said...

I don´t recall anyone but P.D. James who is also on your list, but the leader of our church choir is a tough old lady - 82 years, and still going strong. SHE is not demented, and she has a keen sense of humour so we tease each other and laught quite a lot every Monday evening :D

Anonymous said...

Mary Wellesley?
Ruth Rendell?

Of course, some people continue writing even after they are dead, for example Robert Ludlum, Virigina Andrews, L Ron Hubbard and Isaac Asmiov. I wonder what their secret is?

In Nature this week, we celebrate the career of Prof Rita Levi-Montalcini. She is 100 on 22 April, and will be the first Nobel Laureate to reach this age. She is a neuroscientist who discovered nerve growth factors. From the article "Despite her age, Levi-Montalcini still works every day, exquisitely dressed, hair stylishly coiffured, hands perfectly manicured. In the mornings she shows up at her namesake European Brain Research Institute (EBRI)–Rita Levi-Montalcini, on the outskirts of Rome. In the afternoons she goes downtown to the offices of an educational foundation for African women that she created in 1992."


Melissa O. said...

Interesting post. I'm with you, though. I don't see how that research implies that Christie had Alzheimers--I mean, at 81 many people are not going to be as in charge of their faculties as they once were.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Doris Lessing has just called it quits at what 90.

Kerrie said...

I hope she still sings well Dorte!

Ruth Rendell is only 77 Maxine, but I don't think she is writing as well as she used to, but still a lot better than many others.
I'm not sure what the secret of writing after your death is Maxine. Publishing is simple - even Agatha Christies did it with Final Curtain, didn't she?
Thanks for the story about Rita. She must be remarkable.

Thanks for dropping in Melissa - my father is 93, and my mother 88 this year, both very much in control of their faculties, but neither are writers.

Yes, I came across a couple of people who have published in the last couple of years Patti, who are approaching 90 or so.
Elmore Leonard has 2 books coming out this year and I didn't realise Camilleri was that old.

Good to hear from you Louise. I hope you get the Masters over with soon. What an achievement though! Thanks for being a follower :-)

Bernadette said...

Perhaps I am feeling particularly grumpy today but that 'research' looks like 'experts' in search of a problem. I don't think it proves anything.

I can't add any names to your list. My dad is 85 and still madly writing letters as part of his 'telling the government how to do things properly' campaign but I don't know if that counts :)

Kerrie said...

It almost has a "fame on coat-tails" feel about it doesn't it Bernadette? I wonder why they didn't pick on a living author who could hit back?


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