Vocabulary and dementia in six novelists*
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’s disease. A new case study of detective-fiction writer Ross Macdonald (1915–1930, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s), also shows these language impairments. They are absent in late works by children’s writer Enid Blyton (1897–1968), although she had a juvenile vocabulary and was diagnosed with presenile dementia, not Alzheimer’s. All four writers nonetheless mismanage story development and tend to fictionalize autobiography. Three ‘healthy’ control writers lacking these markers, Frank Baum (of ‘Oz’ 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.