Vocabulary and dementia in six novelists*

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Previous longitudinal studies of modern novelists Iris Murdoch and Agatha Christie indicate that a dramatic loss of vocabulary, and an increase in repeated phrases, mark incipient dementia, especially Alzheimer&#8217;s disease. A new case study of detective-fiction writer Ross Macdonald (1915&#8211;1930, diagnosed with Alzheimer&#8217;s), also shows these language impairments. They are absent in late works by children&#8217;s writer Enid Blyton (1897&#8211;1968), although she had a juvenile vocabulary and was diagnosed with presenile dementia, not Alzheimer&#8217;s. All four writers nonetheless mismanage story development and tend to fictionalize autobiography. Three &#8216;healthy&#8217; control writers lacking these markers, Frank Baum (of &#8216;Oz&#8217; fame), James Hilton (<i>Goodbye, Mr. Chips</i>), and R.A. Freeman (the Dr Thorndyke detective series), show that advanced old age need not end in dementia.


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