Agatha Christie May Have Suffered From Alzheimer's

Posted on June 2, 2010

Elephants Can RememberIan Lancashire, an English professor at the University of Toronto, has determined that famous mystery novelist Agatha Christie may have been suffering from Alzheimer's near the near of end of her career. NPR reports that Lancashire used a computer program to analyze 16 of Agatha Christie's novels.

The novels analyzed included Christie's 73rd novel, which she wrote at age 81. The program found that the novel contained 20% less unique words than Agatha's previous, more verbose novels. Lancashire said he found that Christie's use of indefinite words, such as thing and anything, spiked in this particular novel.

Lancashire told NPR that the finding was astounding. He says, "that is one-fifth of her vocabulary lost."

The reduction of words does sound significant. NPR says Agatha Christie also complained about an "inability to concentrate in her later years." NPR also says friends reported the author would sometimes have "fits of anger and wouldn't make sense in conversations." That all fits with an Alzheimer's or dementia diagnosis.

Agatha Christie's 73rd book was called Elephants Can Remember. The novel features a character, a female novelist, that struggles with memory loss. It could be that Christie was relating to her own struggles with memory lapses when she came up with the character and story idea.

Christie wrote one more novel, Postern of Fate, after Elephants Can Remember according to this list on Wikipedia. It would be interesting to see how this book does in Lancashire's computer program.