Journal Article

Language and memory disorder in the case of Jonathan Swift: considerations on retrospective diagnosis

Marjorie Lorch

in Brain

Published on behalf of The Guarantors of Brain

Volume 129, issue 11, pages 3127-3137
ISSN: 0006-8950
Published online October 2006 | e-ISSN: 1460-2156 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awl246
Language and memory disorder in the case of Jonathan Swift: considerations on retrospective diagnosis

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The cause of behavioural changes described by Alzheimer for his original case, Auguste D., has been recently reconfirmed by histological examination. However, there has been active speculation regarding the cause of behavioural changes exhibited by the political satirist Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) during the final three years of his life for over 250 years. Swift's symptoms of cognitive changes, memory impairment, personality alterations, language disorder and facial paralysis have all been apportioned differing levels of significance in various attempts at retrospective diagnosis. The various medical arguments put forward from the 18th through 20th centuries will be critically examined. The diagnoses considered refer to evolving theories of insanity, phrenology, localization of cortical function, hydrocephalus, psychoanalysis, aphasia, dementia and depression in ageing. Re-consideration of the attempts to re-diagnose Swift's final mental state by the leading neurological thinkers of the day, including Wilde (The Closing Years of Dean Swift's Life. Dublin: Hodges and Smith, 1849), Bucknill (1882), Osler [Osler's textbook Principles and Practice of Medicine (1892); published in St Thomas's Hospital Gazette (London) 1902; 12: 59–60), Brain (Irish Med J 1952: 320–1 and 337–346) and Boller and Forbes (J Neurol Sci 1998; 158: 125–133) reveal the changing attitudes regarding the significance of behavioural symptoms to neurological diagnosis from the 18th century to the present day.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; aphasia; medical history; diagnosis; Jonathan Swift

Journal Article.  8345 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neurology ; Neuroscience

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