A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease strikes fear into the heart of anyone. As a writer, it scares me to think that when I eventually retire from the day job to finally spend more time at my keyboard, this debilitating condition might rob me of the ability to string words together coherently.
I wouldn’t be the first writer to suffer in this way. It is well-known that Terry Pratchett suffers from Alzheimer’s and he has spoken publicly about the disease many times, in some ways becoming the contemporary face of Alzheimer’s. He now dictates his work, either using voice recognition software or to his PA, Rob Wilkins.
In 2009 the Guardian published an article claiming that Agatha Christie may also have been suffering from the disease towards the end of her life. Experts in Canada studied a selection of Christie’s novels written between the ages of 28 and 82 and counted the numbers of different words, indefinite nouns and phrases used in each. They discovered that Christie’s vocabulary size decreased noticeably (by between 15 to 30%) as she neared the end of her life and that her repetition of phrases and indefinite word usage (something, thing, anything) in her novels increased significantly. Agatha Christie, was never diagnosed with dementia but the authors of this study believe that the changes in her writing are consistent not with normal ageing, but with Alzheimer’s disease.
The results of the Christie study mirror those of a similar analysis of the early and late works of the novelist, Iris Murdoch. Her vocabulary had diminished in her final work and, on average, it contained fewer words and clauses per sentence. Murdoch was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s the year after her final novel was completed.
If diagnosed early there are drugs that can help the sufferers of this terrible disease but up until now the problem has been in making that early diagnosis. However, a brain scan is now being trialled by the NHS that spots the early signs of Alzheimer’s and can diagnose the disease in less than 24 hours. This would replace the often inconclusive memory tests that are currently used by doctors to spot the disease.
For those currently living with Alzheimer’s disease and those that care for them, there are aids available to make life a little bit easier, such as alarms to indicate when a sufferer has got out of bed or opened a door or window. These are available through The Disabled Shop.
One in ten people over the age of 65 will develop Alzheimer’s and more than half of those over the age of 85 will succumb to the condition. But only £12 per patient is spent annually on research into Alzheimer’s, compared with £289 per patient spent on cancer – this is an imbalance that can’t be right.
This blog post has been written in response to the Alzheimer’s Disease Blogging Competition, which is aiming to increase awareness of the disease and raise money to fight it. There’s a great list of blogging related prizes plus the chance of paid blogging assignments – if you’ve got a blog then click on the link for details of how to enter. More entrants mean a higher profile for Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alternatively, if you don’t blog, click here to make a donation.