Literary Dementia & Hope

January 28, 2012 — 1 Comment

When we’re young we look forward to growing up. However, once we reach adulthood, the “benefits” of aging begin to pay diminishing returns. Ultimately, aging becomes an unwelcome corollary to being human. When our bodies—and our minds—begin to fail us, we long for the days of our youth.

In 1942, C.S. Lewis wrote to a friend about their similar ailments.

I have had neuralgia to-day but am otherwise alright—except for rheumatism which has prevented me from sleeping on my right side for nearly a year now. (What a series of rediscoveries life is. All the things which one used to regard as simply the nonsense grown-ups talk have one by one come true—draughts, rheumatism, Christianity. The best one of all remains to be verified.)

A recent study of aging writers considered a new technique for assessing dementia, specifially Alzheimer’s. Agatha Christie, a talented and prolific author who wrote over a lengthy period of time, provided the prime candidate for the study. You can read more about it here.

They analyzed how her final two volumes (penned when she was in her eighties) compared to her earlier work, in terms of “vocabulary size and richness.” The decline was significant. They also noted an increase in repeated phrases and the use of indefinite words such as “anything.”

In a sense, this result is not surprising. It is illogical to assume our writing skills would not decline as we reach our senior years. Fewer brain cells means, after all, fewer brain cells. One potential value of this study is to provide a means for identifying illness while it is treatable. The investigation continues.

In a later letter to another of his correspondents, C.S. Lewis wrote again about aging.

We must both, I’m afraid, recognise that, as we grow older, we become like old cars—more repairs and replacements are necessary. We must just look forward to the fine new machines (latest Resurrection model) which are waiting for us, we hope, in the Divine garage!

One response to Literary Dementia & Hope

  1. 

    As someone who was young, then blinked and found Inwas old, this is interesting and disturbing. I read so much more than when I was younger, yet struggle to build vocabulary. That memory thing – just another way Godnpushes us aside to make room for a hopefully better generation.

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