Analysis of Agatha Christie’s later works by a computer scientist and a literary scholar at the University of Toronto has suggested that the author, then in her eighties might have been suffering from the effects of dementia, likely Alzheimer’s disease, at the time of writing.
The study, performed by computer scientist Dr. Ian Lancashire and literary scholar Dr Graeme Hirst analyzed 50,000 words from 16 of Christie’s books written throughout her life from age 28 to age 82. While her memory is said to have been in noticeable decline in her final years, she was never diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or any other form of dementia in her lifetime. The findings of the study show a marked decline in her vocabulary in the later works, greater repetition of phrases and increased use of indefinite pronouns, for example someone. All are key indicators of dementia.
The vocabulary decline evident in Christie’s latter works is perhaps the most telling. Christie’s lexicon decreased by between 15 and 30 percent. Her final work written when she was 81, Elephants Can Remember, contained 18 percent more repeated phrases than previous works. It was at a time that she has been said to have been aware of and defensive about her memory deterioration; which, is suggested to have been the reason for her changing the title from the well known phrase “elephants never forget.”
Lancashire and Hirst’s study concludes that Christie’s work from her seventies shows signs of Alzheimer’s disease. [Telegraph]