Epilogue: The Prism, the Soliloquy, the Couch, and the Dance — The Evolving Study of Language and Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Heidi E. Hamilton


I’m writing this epilogue to Alzheimer Talk, Text and Context twenty-three years after I began what would become a 4½ year conversational journey with “Elsie,” an eighty-one-year-old woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. At the beginning of my conversations with Elsie, I was a twenty-six-year-old graduate student in sociolinguistics, and no stranger to working with elderly individuals. During my years in high school and college I had frequently visited area nursing homes and enjoyed conversing with residents despite the sometimes severe sense-making difficulties that accompanied these talks. My volunteer work at the health care center where Elsie lived involved co-leading weekly armchair exercise and baking classes, assisting with afternoon parties, reading to blind residents, and speaking with a woman who had lost her English abilities and could only speak her first language, German. In my role as participant-observer, I was hoping to supplement the clinical approach taken in most studies of Alzheimer’s disease at that time with what Kitwood (1988) has called a “personal research approach”:

The key to a personal approach is that it does not “stand outside,” taking the position of a detached and unaffected observer. At its core, it works interpretively and empathetically, going far beyond the measurement of indices or the codification of behaviour. In all of this the researcher takes a personal risk… It is on the ground of our own experience that we can gain some inkling of what is happening to another. (Kitwood 1988:176)


Identity Construction Language Disorder Language Change Conversational Partner Typical Ability 
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© Heidi E. Hamilton 2005

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  • Heidi E. Hamilton

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