Is sudden change in handwriting an indication of mental illness?

sudden change in handwriting an indication of mental illness


It should come as no surprise that handwriting changes and mental illness are closely related. Handwriting is a process that initiates in our brain.  Nerves inside our brain are coordinated to trigger motor skills and signals are transmitted down to our fingers. 

Fingers holding the pen or pencil deliver strokes along a specific pattern and handwriting comes into existence. Any disorder in our brain owing to different reasons for illness would disrupt this flow and our handwriting is affected.

A sudden change in handwriting may have a deeper cause than what is apparent. In most cases, the writer is not consciously doing it. Writing is not an ordinary skill. People spend years in developing a specific style of writing consolidating a sound motor-control system of the brain.

A marked deterioration of this carefully honed skill indicates something is wrong in the brain. Let us explore deeper in this area to see what could be the underlying reasons.

Possible Reasons behind sudden change in handwriting

1. Forgetfulness:


According to Diana Kerwin, Neurologist and Director of Alzheimer’s and Memory disorder at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, Dallas multiple factors can culminate in handwriting change.

For a person affected by apraxia, it slips from mind the motor skills required to achieve a pattern of handwriting that used to be his signature. The motor system might have been alright but there is a gap receiving the right commands from the brain to make the hand write. 

2. Alzheimer’s disease:


A large part of our forgetfulness is attributed to Alzheimer’s disease which is basically a neurodegenerative disorder that hampers your motor and cognitive skills.  A symptom of Alzheimer is not only increased forgetfulness over time but a deterioration of handwriting as well.

Damage to cognitive functions makes your handwriting gradually indecipherable. Eventually, they look more like scrawls and scribbles than writing that could be once identified as yours.
Not only Alzheimer’s disease results in a sudden change in handwriting, unable to complete a sentence after starting to write could also be a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact, a handwriting alteration could well be the first warning signal that Alzheimer’s disease has taken a grip. 

Handwriting changes and mental illness linkage is used for screening tests in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s. Specialists often give the patient writing tests to appraise the extent of the disease and how far it has damaged his cognitive and motor functions. 

Sometimes the patient is asked to put his signature on a piece of paper or write a complete sentence. Results of the tests give an insight into a possible onset of mental illness looming.
Another popular test to identify the presence of Alzheimer’s is the clock test. 

This also helps in confirming the functional link between handwriting changes and mental illness.

It is the brain from where instructions are received to write. Again, the brain regulates your ability to position correctly the first and second hands of the clock to the right numbers.

If the patient fails the clock test that is if he draws hands at the wrong position there is an indication there is a mild cognitive impairment. If the patient entirely is unable to write numbers or draw the hour and minutes hand of the clock he is suffering from an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

Handwriting changes and mental illness has its source in a person’s decline in the executive function of the brain. He loses his potential to plan and execute multiple stages of a single task.

3. Dementia:


Dementia is not a disease by itself but it is a syndrome that has a negative influence on mental and cognitive functions. Writing and its gradual alteration is one such task. Dementia is an umbrella term under which Alzheimer’s is included.

The pattern of decline of abilities is on first in last out basis. The latest learned crafts are first to be lost. Writing one own name is learned in the formative years so this skill is relatively retained for a longer time. But this deftness is also eventually lost and your pen stroke turns shakier and ultimately unintelligible.


A variety of mental issues having an impact on handwriting: 

mental issues having an impact on handwriting

Handwriting changes and mental illness have more diseases to book than just Alzheimer’s. Handwriting pattern is a profound diagnosis of our brains subconscious articulations as held by the British Institute of Graphologists.

Schizophrenia, tremors, depression, autism and Asperger’s syndrome all end in a gradual deterioration in handwriting. If you had beautiful handwriting and that has now degenerated into disorganized scribbles, you are likely to be suffering from some mental illness.

Experts hold that thorough and intelligent investigation of handwriting can locate damages in neuromuscular coordination. Handwriting is an instruction from the brain as electric impulses transmitted through our nerves to fingers which actually deliver the writings. Any obstacle to the path or any impairment to the source (brain) would sure to show up in the quality of writing delivered.  

Handwriting changes and mental illness can be correlated in the following cases:

sudden change in handwriting an indication of mental illness
Handwriting changes
  • In case of depression, the writer displays the habit of crossing his/ her signature. 
  •  People suffering from autism have handwriting marked by breaks indicating hesitancy. 
  • Writing that ends in strokes that bend upward at the end of each and every word may be a hint that the person is suffering from lack of emotional support. 
  • If you slant your letters in different directions you may be a patient with schizophrenia.
  •  Irregular handwriting and presence of trembles in lettering could indicate you have Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Some people have minute writing scripts and they have written in that way all their lives which are normal. But if a person’s handwriting suddenly shrinks in size we see here a close tie between handwriting changes and mental illness. He is having neuromuscular coordination deficit and has Parkinson’s disease.


Mechanism of functions inside the brain and its effect on cognitive skills:

person’s female hand signing an important document

Our brain has been evolved over 30000 years. Most of us have language compartments in the left hemisphere of the brain. Writing, signatures and pictographic expressions are controlled and processed in the right hemisphere.

Coordination between the two hemispheres is instrumental in the expression of cognitive skills. A lack of it would impact your handwriting which is essentially an outcome of an array of isolated motor movements that needs a proper rapport. 

A disruption in motor coordination will give rise to a number of mental disorders like cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, dyslexia, epilepsy, coma and schizophrenia. They all affect your handwriting and cognitive functions. 

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