S1E17. Reading Between The Lines

An interesting study was recently published in which writing samples were used to predict with 75% accuracy who would later develop Alzheimer’s Dementia. Here is the take-away finding:

“The researchers examined the subjects’ word usage with an artificial intelligence program that looked for subtle differences in language. It identified one group of subjects who were more repetitive in their word usage at that earlier time when all of them were cognitively normal. These subjects also made errors, such as spelling words wrongly or inappropriately capitalizing them, and they used telegraphic language, meaning language that has a simple grammatical structure and is missing subjects and words like “the,” “is” and “are.” (Read the full article here: rb.gy/q1igg0)

Although the finding was unexpected, with the benefit of hindsight, it makes sense. It seems to be a very early form of word-finding difficulties, loss of word fluency, perseveration and impoverished processing.

Needless to say, I’ve been monitoring myself ever since I first read about this in early February. After all, I am writing a weekly blog about looking for early warning signs of dementia!

Because I edit my drafts and polish them before posting, and because Sally proofreads them, and because I write with my spellcheck and grammar check turned on, I would be surprised if you found much evidence of these kinds of problems in my writing. For example, in a recent post, my final draft had this sentence: “If that be wisdom, then so be it.” Sally spotted the repetition of the word ‘be’ and so the published version became: “If that passes for wisdom, then so be it.”

When I look at all of my written communications (blog, email, tweets, Facebook posts), though, there is one change that stands out. It seems I avoid using the word ‘I.’ So instead of writing, “I was wondering if…’, what comes out is, “Wondering if…’ Or if someone asks me what I think about something, my response is more likely to be, “Nope” or “Not interested” instead of ‘I don’t think so.”

Let’s not make too much out of this. There are many factors influencing my writing style. Writing a blog about one’s experiences is narcissistic by nature and so I consciously try to minimize the expression of my egotism by editing out “I” references.

The unusual punctuation you sometimes see is more likely intentional literary license than it is unintentional grammatical error.

Two weeks agi, I misspelled the word ‘pejorative’ because I’ve always thought the word was ‘perjorative.’

Twitter and Facebook are inherently telegraphic media where one must capture the reader’s attention with very few words. They are their own literary art form and so it is not surprising that their influence spills over into my blog writing.

Bottom line: it doesn’t appear that we can attribute my current writing style to a subtle prodromal indication of a looming dementia. 

But the idea of the loss of the ‘I’ does intrigue me when discussing dementia. 

To what extent is it fair to describe dementia as losing the ‘I’ in oneself? 

Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am.” Who I am is the sum of my experiences, how I react to my world and how I think about it. Should I lose my memories in the coming years, should my personality change and become irritable and unforgiving, should my thoughts become dramatically altered…will I still be me? Or will my ‘I’ have been deleted from my existence during the final days of my journey to nowhere?

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1 Comment

  1. COLLEEN M THORNTON says:

    “Two weeks agi”, Freudian slip? Also, it is bad writing to repeatedly use “I” to express your thoughts. Since you are not a narcissist and have always been modest, restraint of obviously self-referencial words is natural for you. Just sayin….

    Liked by 1 person

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