Elephants Can Remember

from agathachristie.com
Did anyone catch RadioLab this morning? It was riveting. The topic was vocabulary and language usage as a predictor of Alzheimer's - sounds like a dry subject, but stick with me. The first portion discussed a researcher who analyzed Agatha Christie's vocabulary usage between her first and last book.

"Mr. A: So he took 16 of her books, which she'd written over 50-year period, and he fed them all into a computer. Now, what is the computer doing exactly?

Prof. L: Measuring the vocabulary of the works...

Mr. A: ...number of different words...

Prof. L: ...word frequency...

Mr. A: That kind of thing. And he discovered that something happened at her 73rd book.

K: What?

Mr. A: Well, to start, her use of words like...

Prof. L Words like thing, anything, something.

Mr. A: What he would call Indefinite Words.

Prof. L: These words increased six times...

Mr. A: At the same time, the number of different words she used in the text fell 20 percent.

Prof. L: That is astounding. That's one-fifth of her vocabulary lost.

Mr. A: And it gradually dawned on him that what he might be seeing was the very beginning stages of an author losing herself.

K: What does that mean, losing herself?

Mr. A: Well, after talking with linguists and cognitive psychologists, he eventually came out and said...

Prof. L: The data supported a view that she had developed Alzheimer's.

Mr. A: Was she ever actually diagnosed?

Prof. L: Absolutely not. There was no diagnosis.

Mr. A: He says that some of her biographers suspected that something was up with her in her later years, but she never got that diagnosis.

Prof. L: I think her family closed around her and protected her.

Mr. A: But if you think about the title of that 73rd book...

Prof. L: "Elephants Can Remember."

Mr. A: ...and if you think about the plot...

Prof. L: The chief character is an aging female novelist and she is suffering from memory loss.

Mr. A: ...you realize that maybe, on some level, she knew - that Agatha Christies was sensing what was happening to her.

Prof. L: I realized I was seeing the author in the text in a way that people hadn't seen the author in the text before."

I found myself feeling so sad, listening to this story as I drove to work. How must that feel, to even subconsciously know that you're slowly losing yourself? Did she notice when she wrote "someone" or "something" instead of a more colorful word? Did her family see it coming? Did it hurt them more as it was happening to someone so uncommonly sharp, so creative?

Wiki says that she died at home at 85. Before she died, sensing her growing weakness, she signed over the rights to The Mousetrap to her grandson.

Experience with degenerative diseases in my own family has shown me that every case is different, every person and every family takes it in their own fashion, but it's never easy and there's always grieving involved. Not for nothing does the saying go, "you don't have anything if you don't have your health..."

I'd highly recommend listening to the story. It's fascinating.

Heavy post. Sorry.  June goals in my next post.

Source one.
Source two.