An aging signature: handwriting changes in old age

Photo of handwritten receipt from Mobile On-site Shredding service. Block capitals plus a signature with a flourish.
Is your signature aging along with you?

What a surprise to notice my aging signature, shorter than before but with an extra flourish! It has been changing gradually in exactly this direction, but today the age-related change is more obvious to me than ever. I like it. But why? It’s funnier than you think.

Anatomy of an old woman’s signature

  • The “R” is big and bold. “R” for Rachel. That’s who I am: Rachel. That’s what most people call me.
  • The signature runs uphill, even more steeply than before. Well, dreams are free!
  • The middle letter has run away. “P” was for Phyllis. That’s a beautiful, slippery, silky name with a lovely meaning: greenery or foliage. Yes, turn me into a tree, but not yet, thanks! Let me stay green and growing for the rest of my life. I was named after my godmother, a kind woman who gave me a personal scrapbook entitled “The Adventure of Prayer” with a picture of a big old sailing ship on the cover. But the name was poisoned for me when she made me (aged about 8?) promise never to wear powder or lipstick. (It was too long ago for the word “makeup.”) I made that consciously false promise, feeling righteous because I knew she was unfairly manipulating me from a position of power. She did wrong, not me.
  • “McAlpine” has been compressed into “M A p”, sort of. Good, so I’m a map. That works for me.
  • The rest of my surname is flung into the air in a whirly twirly tail. Whoosh! I’m away with a flourish!
  • Then, surprisingly, a full stop. Well, that will also happen to me one day, for sure.

Why does our handwriting change as we age?

Do I really need to answer this question? You know what happens: arthritis, old wounds, a growing weakness that makes it hard to open jars, eyesight changing — and 30-something years of using a computer. Not to mention that I signed on a small receipt book, holding it in the air.

My secret superpower: interpreting age-related changes in a positive way

But scrutinising the details of my old-new aging signature, I am tempted to see something more at work. Why these particular changes? Why not a small R? Why not go horizontal for once? Are psychological forces at work? Spiritual?

Who knows? I only know that reframing is one of my superpowers. I can choose to interpret facts in a highly personal, highly favourable way. I could have written an analysis of my signature that was decidedly uncomplimentary to myself. But as usual I fed the facts through the dear old sieve of my own preference to see the upside of, well, almost anything.

So you really shouldn’t believe a thing I say. Nevertheless, I recommend this approach to life, on the whole. It has served me well.

P.S. Why does an old person need a shredding bin?

You know why. Among the many things that can cause clutter at home are pieces of paper. Old projects, old tax documents, old manuscripts and so forth. These can be easy or hard to get rid of, for multiple reasons, right? So every few years I hire a small bin for unwanted documents (many of them bearing my signature) and when it’s about three quarters full, a strong man with a mobile shredding truck shreds them right there on the street, in front of my very eyes.

Feels good to unclutter my home from unwanted aging documents. Farewell to all those gradually aging signatures too. Chopped and shredded. Didn’t hurt a bit.

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30 thoughts on “An aging signature: handwriting changes in old age

  1. Lifetime Chicago says:

    My cursive is combined with printing letters.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s original.

  2. ivor20 says:

    A fascinating article Rachel .. my signature has changed dramatically over the years after 3 strokes in 20 years, but I’m pleased to say that it still runs uphill with a flourish … yep … I am still dreaming

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Perfect! You are still you.

      1. ivor20 says:

        I am a wobbly sort of perfect 🌏😀

  3. judibwriting says:

    I love your interpretation of signature significance! I haven’t been able to read my handwriting in years (MS here) but somehow the bank and the tax people accept my scrawl anyway. Thank goodness for the computer and printing things out. Shredding is a really good idea and and I look forward to the moment when I might actually get ’round to it….

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Seems your signature is still distinctive, thank goodness. I look forward to the day when all my documents are digital. Meanwhile, most I shred by hand and use for kitty litter .

  4. Suzanne says:

    Rachel, thanks for the laugh over my afternoon cuppa, “turn me into a tree”. Now, that would be my style too, though not at the moment. In the meantime, the signature and it’s use. Lately, the only time I use it is visiting my Mum in her carehome, and yes it has changed slightly though I am only a youngest in my mid sixties.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Agree, let’s stay sort of human for the meantime. It would be a surprise if our handwriting stayed the same forever, considering how much we change, wouldn’t it?

      1. Suzanne says:


  5. You always find such interesting angles for your blog (and I see your signature too). I hate having to insert my signature into digital documents and even more if using the digital pen… cannot do a signature that is remotely like mine. I’ve got one saved, but then it’s finding it, and inserting it deftly into the digital space. Having a hyphenated name, means, I’ve somehow managed to reduce my signature to a miniature. Every now and then I launch out to write it more fully, but run out of steam. What will happen when AI can use my voice and copy my signature… will I cease to be me…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You’ll have to demonstrate your signature for me one of these days so I can see for myself. A 12-character surname is a challenge. Running out of steam: I guess that’s what I’m doing now, and why not?

  6. Cathy Cade says:

    Mine has always been like a spider crawling across the page. I embraced the word processor to the extent that when I took a BEd degree before returning to work in the 1990s, I needed to practice my handwriting before the exams to make sure they would be able to read my essays. Things haven’t improved since then.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Well, spiders are remarkable creatures, Cathy. No doubt yours helped you pass many an exam.

      1. Cathy Cade says:

        I tend to be kinder to spiders now than I was back then…

  7. I have only a grandiose P left with an upward flourish ending in a full stop. There is little hope for me!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      On the contrary, I’m spotting a most delightful trend here. Upwards with a flourish is where we are all going!?

      1. It’s the only way to go!

  8. cedar51 says:

    I’m about to change my signature “string” because I’ve adopted a new first name (well not new, had it a few years) – the bank wants me to have a new type of card, and that means I’ve got to load a pin# – so I’ll do the signature change as well.
    The the tradesperson asking me to sign his data thing is a minefield, I end up doing as a squiqqly ripple of just initials – (cds}

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      This is an opportunity to establish that squiggly ripple of initials as your official signature. Excellent!

  9. Sadje says:

    My handwriting has also changed as I’ve grown older.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      We think we control our signatures, but maybe it’s the other way round…

      1. Sadje says:

        Lol! Perhaps. It’s true that handwriting tells a lot about us.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    My handwriting has always been atrocious. In fact in grade school the two low scores were in penmanship and deportment.(Do they even grade deportment now?) My scrawl is even hard for me to read sometimes. My husband tries to decode my shopping lists and has to call from the store for help. At least it didn’t have far to fail!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      This is hilarious, Elizabeth! I remember the girl who got the deportment prize each year at high school. She was lovely and her serge gym frock was always clean and pressed. (I don’t think her mother had six children and a full time job like our mother did.)

  11. srbottch says:

    Reframing and shredding, such great advice. We’re into the declutter stage of Life, well, my wife more than I. I just can’t let go of some things, like golf clubs. They’re too big for our shredder. That would be too noisy. My ties? I never wear one so that’s on the list. But even tied he’ll me conjure up great memories. Oh, well, I better get with it😉.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      My shredding bin came with a stern warning against anything metal, like staples. They didn’t mention gold clubs. Apart from that, your call!

      1. srbottch says:


  12. Anonymous says:

    Fascinating! I trained as a graphologist and am always interested in anything to do with handwriting. Meryl

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      My grandmother, same. But my readings are far from scientific!

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