Misleading reports on “senile dementia” as inevitable cause of writer Marquez’s death 1


Reports on the cause of the death of Latin American literary giant Gabriel Garcia Marquez have been greatly distorted – to paraphrase Mark Twain’s famous quote about “greatly exaggerated” reports of his own death.

illustration of tree as brain losing leaves

Misleading statements have appeared in many obituaries of the author of 100 Years of Solitude and many other acclaimed works, stating that he had succumbed to “senile dementia”. This followed his family’s public disclosure two years ago that Marquez was suffering from this condition.

The Nobel prizewinning author Gabriel García Márquez is suffering from senile dementia and can no longer write, his brother has revealed. Jaime García Márquez told students in Cartagena, Colombia, that his older brother, affectionately know as Gabo, calls him on the telephone to ask basic questions. “He has problems with his memory. Sometimes I cry because I feel like I’m losing him,” he said.
UK Guardian report in 2012: Gabriel García Márquez’s writing career ended by dementia

The director of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez New Journalism Foundation, Jamie Abello, conceded that Marquez’s purported dementia had not been clinically diagnosed. He then repeated the conventional wisdom that the famous writer was just showing “normal cognitive decline” that is often seen in those of advanced age.

display of words about dementia

A writer on health issues has weighed in with a most helpful article responding to, and countering, this widely quoted contention that Marquez had succumbed to “senile dementia”.

The Alzheimer’s Society of the United Kingdom and the Alzheimer’s Association stated that the term “senile dementia” is actually an outdated term. This wording was used when experts thought that memory loss and confusion were normal parts of the aging process… While the risk of dementia does increase with age, developing dementia is not a normal part of reaching an advanced age.
Dorian Martin, healthcentral.com

Martin has critiqued the assertion that Marquez suffered and died from “senile dementia” simply because he had reached his mid 80s. She cites evidence from researchers into Alzheimer’s Disease.

A commonly held misconception is that aging results in an inevitable loss of cognitive abilities and that nothing can be done to halt this decline. Research, however, does not support these claims. While certain areas of thinking do show a normal decline as we age, others remain stable.
the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

brain scans ID Alzheimer's

More confusion around what is normal, in terms of mental faculties as we age, came from Jaime Marquez’s 2012 announcement about his brother’s dementia indicating that his memory problems were hereditary. Confusingly, Jaime added that this was also due to the treatment Gabriel had received years ago for lymphatic cancer.

Dementia runs in our family and he’s now suffering the ravages prematurely due to the cancer that put him almost on the verge of death.
– Jaimie Garcia Marquez, in his 2012 public announcement

Medical experts disagree that dementia, or Alzheimer’s, is mainly an inherited condition.

The majority of dementia is not inherited, but this depends very much on the particular cause of dementia. Some (rare) causes of dementia are very clearly ‘inherited’… Some other dementias have both inherited and non-inherited forms. Most cases of Alzheimer’s disease are not inherited.
– UK Alzheimer’s Society

Another lesson in the need for fact-checking. Which takes us back to that original Mark Twain quote…

Mark Twain in white suit

Samuel Langhorn Clemens AKA Mark Twain relaxing with trademark white hair and suit

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
– attributed to Mark Twain

The expression derives from the popular form of a longer statement by the American writer, Mark Twain, which appeared in the New York Journal of 2 June 1897: ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration’. The correction was occasioned by newspaper accounts of Twain’s being ill or dead. At the time, Twain’s cousin James Ross Clemens was seriously ill in London, and appears that some reports confused him with Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain).
Oxford Dictionary of Quotations



One comment on “Misleading reports on “senile dementia” as inevitable cause of writer Marquez’s death

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