Agatha Christie’s novels could have shown cognitive deterioration

Alzheimers Research UK explain 'what is dementia?'

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Born into a middle class family on September 15, 1890 in Torquay, Devon, Agatha Christie was home schooled by her American father, who died after a series of heart attacks when she was only 11. By the age of 18, Agatha had developed a talent for writing short stories, but it wasn’t until the First World War when she turned towards writing detective novels. Her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, resulted in a publishing contract where Agatha had to produce five more books.

Agatha’s name became synonymous with her fictional character, Detective Hercule Poirot.

Over her lifetime, the writer created 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections; not forgetting the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap.

Yet, in an in-depth textual analysis of her work, researchers claimed that the wordsmith could have been suffering from dementia in older age.

Academics at the University of Toronto studied a selection of Agatha’s work, counting the numbers of different words, indefinite nouns and phrases used in each.

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“We found statistically significant drops in vocabulary, and increases in repeated phrases and indefinite nouns in 15 detective novels from The Mysterious Affair at Styles to Postern of Fate,” said Dr Ian Lancashire.

“These language effects are recognised as symptoms of memory difficulties associated with Alzheimer’s disease.”

The researchers noted that Agatha’s vocabulary size dwindled by up to 30 percent as she neared the end of her life, which came on January 12, 1976.

Reportedly, the most abrupt decline was seen in her novel Elephants Can Remember, which she penned at the age of 81.

During her lifetime, Agatha was not clinically diagnosed with any form of dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Society expanded on how dementia can affect a person’s use of language and communication.

Firstly, it’s worth noting dementia can affect the part of the brain that controls language.

Language issues for a person who has dementia can vary from day to day, which could worsen when feeling tired or unwell.

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Dementia can affect language use in numerous ways, from not being able to find the right words to using a related word in place of the correct word.

To illustrate, a person may used the related work book when what they are referring to is a newspaper.

There can be substitutions for words forgotten, such as “that thing you sit on” instead of saying chair.

There may be difficulty with finding any word at all to describe an object, emotion, or place.

“There may eventually come a time when the person can no longer communicate as they once did,” the charity stated.

Dementia can also lead to communication issues when the person affected starts to believe in the hallucinations they are having.

A breakdown in communication can also occur when a person with dementia makes inappropriate comments.

Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar features on Channel 5, Sunday, October 9 at 4.05pm.

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