You probably were not being diligent enough when President Trump uttered something about “ace-ing” the brain test he was given during a recent doctor’s visit or you would have looked it up yourself. He presented this as another sign of how perfect he is. That’s not surprising because, well, who actually needs to know what that exam is about?
Well, me for one, and you for two.
I have taken the same exam four times in the past year, a little legacy of brain surgery that led to an infection that nearly killed me and just about wrecked the left side (and its functions) of my brain. It’s called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test.
Click on that to get a look at what it looks like. You really should do this to see what Trump is bragging about. It actually asks you to say what kind of animal outline you are looking at, then presents a lion, a rhino and a camel. There are varied versions of this test so it’s hard to prep for it. Some show different animals, whatever. Who can’t do that?
I got the animals really well. But for the life of me, I could not draw the box after looking at the picture for too long. I could count backward very well, and remember the words for a minute or so. But not at all after about five minutes.
My spouse describes a man who moved his arms in the air like a baby just after the operation, a man who was clearly…clearly…what?
It was really hard to hear that from the very smart, kind speech therapist who first approached me with this test when I was in recovery at Presbyterian Homes. She was great. I love her in retrospect. I instantly hated her at first because….well…Brain Damage! Who needs to fail in front of a beautiful woman you are not married to? Who needs to fail at copying a box that is right there in front of you? Who needs that kind of a challenge at 7 a.m. when you are brain damaged and want only your breakfast?
Totally, and I’m not shy about admitting it today. I will spend the next few years getting back what I lost because of that infection, which came during an operation to address normal pressure hydrocephalus. I walk three miles a day but I usually have to use a cane. I can play guitar again, which is great because my hands were completely numb after the operations (three) to address the problem, but I don’t know if I will ever perform again. I have lost a lot of hearing and some eyesight. Still, I am alive and there’s a lot to be said for that, given the alternative.
For something that has been studied almost forever, people still don’t know exactly how the brain works. The short hand version is that the left side does all the complex things like math and reasoning, and the right side does all the artsy things, like art!
Probably not. If you want to get way into it, read a book called “The Master and His Emmissary,” which is all about brain studies and conclusions over time. Long story short, the brain, the whole brain, works on a bunch of levels you can’t even imagine. It is a wonder to behold, and a big challenge when things go wrong.
The problem with this brain test story from Trump is that the Montreal exam is not used as a diagnostic tool. It can’t tell you what’s wrong. It can only tell a neurologist or a speech therapist if there are areas that need more examination. It’s used as an early warning test for dementia and Alzheimers, but it’s not conclusive.
Say you can’t remember what you said about something, or deny something you clearly said? People might think you are a liar, or somehow brain damaged. But that’s carrying this too far. It’s best to think of Trump as a sick guy in his own special way. This kind of a brain test is not going to reveal that.
It’s not much more than a rough tool that gives the person in front of you a sense about whether all your circuits are clicking. You build up a score in this test based on its various sections. Counting back by 7s from 100, for example, is easy unless you are brain damaged or suffering some specific kind of decline.
I found the hardest part to be remembering words I was warned I would have to repeat later at the beginning of the test. I tried all kinds of strategies to make that work, but I simply couldn’t do it. You would think you could memorize a sentence built on the words, but while you are thinking about that, you are already into another part of the test, or wondering whether that was a camel or a dromedary.
I’m not at all apologetic about my performance on this test. It wasn’t like I messed my brain up with drugs or alcohol. I messed my brain with bacteria! I have, if not an excuse, at least an explanation. And I didn’t have to lie about any of it.
And I have now learned how to draw a box!