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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.

  • There is no pass or fail in MoCA. Now many patients are embarrassed if they can’t perform a task on MoCA. It’s supposed to look for early signs of cognitive difficulty and an accessible tool to clinics across the world. This valuable tool should not be politicized for the US election.

  • The articles dont mock people taking the test, they mock Trump for bragging about passing it, and lying about how the doctors were “amazed” by his performance. And they bring up the salient point of who decided that the president needed to take this test. I took it too, after a stroke, and I’m not offended by the flap about it. There wouldnt have been any story if Trump could have just kept his mouth shut about it, but he cant keep his mouth shut about anything, so this happened.

  • Here’s the thing though. It’s meant to be ridiculously easy to someone who is not suffering a cognitive impairment. Noone is laughing at you for yours or the test for being stupid, they’re laughing at Trump for bragging about it.

    Imagine this scenario – Trump brags about being able to tie his own shoes and how it makes him the most dextrous man alive. The nation mocks him for seeing such a basic skill as an accomplishment. Would those with malformations, amputations or severe arthritis so would struggle to tie their shoes feel insulted and take it personally that people were laughing at the president for bragging about tying his?

  • Thank you for sharing such a difficult, moving, and personal experience. I share your feelings about the minimizing of the test itself and your personal journey through your treatment. Please accept my compassion, blessings and intention for your complete healing.
    Love, peace and blessings,
    Sandy💚😇🙏🏻☮️

  • Thank you for sharing your insight with us about the test. I am just finding out about these types of test due to the prevalent news stories recently. Because of this, the news has skewed my view about how important the test is, and what it means to the people who take it. It’s sad to see people’s political party being brought up when this test is discussed, and I truly hope you do get better.

  • My sister failed this test in her early 40’s. She had been a young breast cancer patient and had silicone implants at age 30. The silicone leaked into her body & her brain & it was a tragedy. I find no humor in this test either. Thank you for your thoughtful article.

  • Thank you for your sobering tale of suffering and recovery. My father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for many years. He was much smarter than the ridiculous subject of too many news stories. We are nearing the end of one nightmare. I wish you many years of health in a world in free of Trumpmockery.

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