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One sunny day in October 2016, I failed the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA). That’s the test pundits are having a field day with because it’s probably the one President Trump recently bragged that he “aced.”

I remember that day vividly. My neurologist and I sat facing each other over a mahogany desk in Menlo Park, Calif. I’d taken the test because of worrisome cognitive symptoms I was experiencing. I failed, she said. At age 34.

She told me in a calm yet concerned tone, with a hint of surprise. Actually, more than a hint.

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I’d failed the MoCA mainly because I had struggled with the memory, attention, language, and delayed recall sections.

At the time, I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with the viral illness that was attacking my brain and causing myriad neuromuscular and cognitive symptoms that had begun nearly two years earlier.

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A year after I failed the MoCA, a top neuroimmunologist on the East Coast diagnosed me with a neurological virus that caused atrophy and hypometabolism — in short, neurons were dying — on the left side of my brain. As a result, I lost significant function in my right arm and leg, and my ability to think and remember declined. He strongly urged neurological rehabilitation geared toward stroke management, since my symptoms were similar to those that follow a stroke.

Rehab was my only shot at improving, he said, so I went. I spent 2 1/2 years in five types of neurological rehab at two academic medical centers in New York. I attended therapy up to six times a week and never missed a session. From ages 35 to 37, I sat in stroke rehab centers and braved onlookers who clearly wondered why a youngster like me was in the waiting room.

All the while I grappled with a deeply distressing mix of feelings: fear that rehab wouldn’t work, uncertainty that I would regain my complete functional capacity, and profound confusion about what had happened to me.

My rehab worked tremendously, thanks to brilliant specialists and my deep desire to pull out of the hold the virus had on me. Emotionally, I worked to accept that I had lost nearly five years of my life to a virus. That I had gone from a fundraising consultant for nonprofits to a patient with a drastic loss of function. That a young woman with post-graduate degrees had failed a cognitive assessment test designed for people twice her age.

I could not have anticipated the politicization of the MoCA in the 2020 election. I have watched talking heads and cable news anchors laugh as they depict the MoCA in the context of President Trump and his professed perfect score. They mock the section where the testee is asked to name line drawings of three animals. Feign disbelief that anyone without diagnosed dementia can’t draw a clock showing a specific time. Are certain that anyone can name scores of words that start with “f.”

I wasn’t laughing when I failed the test. And I’m not laughing now.

Regardless of one’s political party, the insensitivity of those poking fun at the test, and by extension the people who fail it, is difficult to take.

I understand the media attention. I get that we don’t want a president who requires a cognitive assessment test, or one who feels compelled to boast about his alleged score. But I’m insulted by the unchecked politicization of the MoCA, and I bet others are too.

It’s insulting to those who have to take it. Who fail it, especially those who are young when they fail it. Who don’t have dementia or fit the profile of the kind of person who would fail this easy test. Who don’t find the test easy at all. And who work for years to get better.

I feel deeply for others taking the MoCA today — young or old — who failed after trying as hard as they could. You should, too.

Sabrina Kippur is the founder of Juice and Salt, a company that creates juices tailored for people with common chronic illnesses, food intolerances, and vitamin deficiencies.

  • You are not the President who is a dangerous ego maniac who always touts himself as very stable genius. While I respect your opinion your mixing apples and lemons

  • I can understand why you’d feel that way. However, you failed the test because had a significant illness affecting your brain. That’s exactly what the test is designed for. It’s not funny that there are illnesses out there that rob people of their mental facilities, but it’s funny that one would brag of being able to meet the cognitive standard of “doesn’t have an underlying brain disorder or disease”.

    • I don’t think people are laughing at the test or those who fail it. They are laughing at Trump.

  • I’m sorry you have had to go thru what you are going thru. I also have significant cognitive deficiencies due to an illness that effects my brain function. It is truly depressing and difficult to deal with. I am not quite as young as you, got ill 5 yrs ago at 48, but there is no cure for my illness (yet) and I am permanently disabled.
    That said, I don’t really understand why you would think anyone is “making fun” of you, me or anyone else who have failed this test. Trump is continuously bringing up the passing of this test, without prompting by the way, as something that is amazing and that, because he passed, everyone should think he is a genius for doing so. If any fun is being made, it is at his expense only for thinking this test some how proves that he is the “best president ever”. If he would stop bringing it up, it wouldn’t even be talked about. I’m truly sorry you feel the criticism somehow is reflected on to you. I hope you have a full recovery from your medical issues and have a full and happy life! Don’t let this issue get you down, not worth you time or energy!

  • Thank you for sharing and I am glad you got better!
    I agree it is no laughing matter.
    My best to you.

  • People aren’t saying that failing the test makes somebody a bad person nor are people making fun of those who fail it, if “fail” is the right word. It’s an assessment to see whether a person might fit into certain categories, and getting everything right means that he tested negative. It’s not something that somebody can “ace.”

    Those who can’t pass it are unlikely to be suitable to be President at this time, and the notion that somebody who passes it, by virtue of that alone, is suitable to be President is the laughable part. It is not meant to test intelligence, aptitude or anything like it.

    Also, if your ability to think and remember had declined, perhaps you would have done better on the MoCA if they had replaced “face, velvet, church, daisy, red” with some other words. They gave you unrelated words, which is the point of the test. If, hypothetically, you were a person who loved TV cameras, then changing them to “person, woman, man, camera, TV” would have made it easier for you. It would have defeated the purpose of the test, and given you a false sense that might have kept you from getting the help you need.

    People are making fun of the fact that Trump is boasting about not having a severe neurological impairment as if it somehow makes him a genius, rather than somebody whose cognitive function hasn’t slipped to the level that requires medical intervention.

    It’s unfortunate that some people have chosen to mischaracterize things, but it’s also important for you to realize that people who do that most likely have limited cognitive skills not due to neurological impairment. You should no more blame them for being stupid than they should blame you for scoring a certain way on the test.

  • Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry. That last bit slipped out without my permission. I really just wanted to thank you and tell that there are people who know how strong you are. Writing your story is an amazing gift for us. I hope that it was a little bit therapeutic for you as well.

  • I cannot thank you enough for speaking out. It has been hard to see that darn test flashed on screens and mocked. I’m 40 and have taken it twice in 6 months. The first time was during a Neuro consult for chronic Migraines. I passed but didn’t feel it accurately portrayed the cognitive decline I had noticed. The second time was 4 months after I had started my migraine medication. I didn’t pass. This is my new normal. Cognitive loss and loss of self due to meds or chronic migraines. Everyone I know says the same thing, at least you dont have migraines anymore. My secret is I’m not sure it’s worth it. I’m not the same person on the meds, but i can remember who I was. What can’t the meds make me forget that?

  • It wasn’t about the test, it was about how proud he was of it. He just seems like a child always looking for an attaboy, but having no clue how to get one. I feel sorry for him. I am sorry that you felt it was an attack on people who do fail the test, in my case, it wasn’t and I am sure a lot of others felt this also. Thank you though for bring this to my attention, I sure never thought of it from your point of view. Prayers and well wishes for your recovery.

    • I don’t feel sorry for mocking Trump for boasting about passing that rest. No or one is mocking him for failing the test, they are mocking him for boasting about passing it. Your assessment of the situation is really strange. Everything isn’t about your experience at all. You seem to think trumps boasting doesn’t deserve mockery. It does. It would have if he said he was in Mensa, if he went on about his stabile get genius big Brain etc. Your judgment on this isn’t good, he is a boasting buffoons!

  • Glad you were actually diagnosed accurately and not poo pooed like a lot of doctors do to patients with problems that ARE difficult to diagnose. The difference between you and trump though is the fact that he acts like this was an IQ test that scores how SMART one is, not a test to gauge one’s ( declining) level of cognition. Big difference.

  • No one is making fun of this test or those that fail it. Many are making fun of the president who bragged about passing it and claimed it was a difficult measure of intelligence.
    No one is politicizing this diagnostic tool. They are pointing out that Trump is unable to make good decisions even about what he might want to brag about.
    I don’t really think it’s funny either… It is frightening.

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