In an attempt to draw a contrast with former Vice President Joe Biden, President Trump has caused confusion over the details of a cognitive test he has been bragging about in recent interviews.
The most recent discussion of it was Wednesday night on Fox News in an interview with Dr. Marc K. Siegel, a medical analyst on the network.
“The last time I was at the hospital, probably a year ago, a little less than a year ago, I asked the doctor. ... It was Dr. Ronny Jackson,” Trump said. (Jackson was the White House physician until about two years ago, when he left after Trump nominated him to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. He withdrew his name after embarrassing allegations by former colleagues surfaced, and is now a Republican candidate for Congress.)
“I said, ‘Is there some kind of a test, an acuity test?’ And he said, ‘There actually is,’ and he named it, whatever it might be.”
Trump then went into great detail about the test, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA).
“It was 30 to 35 questions,” said the president. “The first questions are very easy. The last questions are much more difficult. Like a memory question. It’s, like, you’ll go: Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV. So they say, ‘Could you repeat that?’ So I said, ‘Yeah. It’s: Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.’
“‘OK, that’s very good. If you get it in order you get extra points. If you’ — OK, now he’s asking you other questions, and then 10 minutes, 15-20 minutes later they’d say, ‘Give us that again, can you do that again?’”
(The protocol for the test specifies that the second trial should take place five minutes after the first, not 15 or 20.)
“And you go, Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV. If you get it in order you get extra points. They said, ‘Nobody gets it in order.’ It’s actually not that easy. For me it was easy.”
In January 2018, Jackson said Trump had a perfect score on the MoCA, which awards up to 30 points for successfully completing tasks such as drawing a clock with the hands at 11:10. Trump also made a previously unannounced visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in November 2019 that the White House later said was part of his annual physical. The statement did not specify if he underwent any cognitive tests on that visit.
During an interview with Chris Wallace recorded last week but aired on “Fox News Sunday,” Trump again attacked Biden’s mental competence. When Wallace asked Trump if he believed Biden was senile, Trump said, “I don’t want to say that,” but then claimed, “Joe doesn’t know he’s alive, OK? He doesn’t know he’s alive. Do the American people want that?” When Wallace referenced a new poll that showed voters believed Biden was more competent, Trump again brought up his score on a test of mental acuity.
“Well, I’ll tell you what, let’s take a test,” Trump said. “Let’s take a test right now. Let’s go down, Joe and I will take a test. Let him take the same test that I took.”
“Incidentally, I took the test too when I heard that you passed it,” Wallace replied.
“Yeah, how did you do?” inquired Trump.
“It’s not — well, it’s not the hardest test,” said Wallace. “They have a picture and it says, ‘What’s that?’ and it’s an elephant.”
“No no no,” said Trump. “You see, that’s all misrepresentation.”
“Well, that’s what it was on the web,” said Wallace.
“It’s all misrepresentation,” Trump said. “Because, yes, the first few questions are easy, but I’ll bet you couldn’t even answer the last five questions. I’ll bet you couldn’t, they get very hard, the last five questions.”
In a July 9 interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump bragged about how doctors were impressed about a test he had taken “recently.”
“I actually took one when I, uh, very recently, when I was, uh, when I was — you know, the radical left was saying, ‘Is he all there? Is he all there?’” Trump said. “And I proved I was all there ’cause I aced it, I aced the test, and he should take the same exact test, a very standard test at Walter Reed Medical Center. I took it in front of doctors, and they were very surprised. They said, ‘That’s an unbelievable thing, very rarely do people do what you just did.’”
The Washington Post reported that in early June, Trump brought up the test and “waxed on about how he’d dazzled the proctors with his stellar performance, according to two people familiar with his comments. He walked the room of about two dozen White House and reelection officials through some of the questions he said he’d aced, such as being able to repeat five words in order.”
Trump’s continual bragging about the test is odd because the creator of the MoCA, neurologist Ziad Nasreddine, told the Washington Post that “it’s not meant to measure IQ or intellectual skill in any way. If someone performs well, what it means is they can be ruled out for cognitive impairment that comes with diseases like Alzheimer’s, stroke or multiple sclerosis. That’s it.”
“The reason most people take the test is they or others start noticing mental decline,” Nasreddine continued. “They forgot where they parked the car, can’t remember what groceries to buy by the time they get to the store. They keep forgetting to take their medication.”
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