Monday, May 16, 2011
Men and MS Spring 2011
Headline: Having Fun with a Mental Cognition Test
By David LeSueur
One of the potential problems caused by MS is impaired thinking; however, how do you know whether any diminished capacity is caused by MS rather than natural aging? When I was growing up, an uncle told me that when men got old, brain cells (which look like hair) start growing out of their ears!
I was always skeptical, but now I think he might have been right. I figure I have trimmed over a foot of brain cells from my ears during the past decade. That would explain a lot.
So when my neurologist offered to send a nurse to my house to give me a "Mental Cognition Test," I readily agreed. I was anxious to see what she thought. The nurse came by the next week. We talked about the weather, and then she got out her notebook and started the test.
"Let's start with an easy question." she said. "What day of the week is it today?"
That isn't such an easy question. I don't work anymore, so every day seems the same. I can't even rely on what television show I watched last night to tell me what day of the week it is because we record everything we want to watch on our DVR and watch it on a different day. But on that day, I did remember watching the Broncos play the day before, which means the day before must have been Sunday, so I answered confidently, "Today is Monday!"
The nurse looked at me and laughed. "It is Tuesday, not Monday!" she said.
"That's right," I replied. "The Broncos played yesterday, but it was on Monday Night Football." I was not off to a good start.
"Let's try another question. I am going to read you three unrelated words and have you repeat them back to me. That should be easy. But remember them, because I will ask you to name them again in a few minutes. Okay, here are the words: tree, ballpoint pen, bank. . . Now what are the three words?"
It will be easy to say them back now, I thought to myself, but remembering them later could be tricky. Fortunately, I have a book called "How You Too Can Develop a Razor-Sharp Mind and a Steel-Trap Memory." It says that to remember unrelated items you need to form a relationship in your mind between the items. The wackier the relationship is, the easier it is to remember the items. There is more to it – but I can't remember where I put the book to check on it.
What trick will I use to remember these words? First I will imagine looking out my window and seeing a grove of trees. Growing on the trees will be a bunch of ballpoint pens. Finally I'll remember that we are growing the pens to replace the ones in the bank that no longer work.
"Tree, ballpoint pen, bank." I said.
"That's right!" she replied. "Now for the next exercise, you will have 60 seconds to name all the animals you can think of. Are you ready? Go!"
She said "Go!" before I could think about my strategy for thinking of animals. I decided to pretend I was at the zoo. "Penguins, elephants, giraffes," I said to begin. "Can I just say ‘deer’ or do I have to be more specific about what kind of deer it is?"
"Deer is fine. Keep going!"
She was writing something down in her book. "Then deer," I said, continuing, "and lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh my!" I looked at her but she wasn't laughing. I wonder if I get extra credit for having a sense of humor. Or maybe I get points taken off for telling stupid jokes. I'd better watch myself.
"30 seconds!" she announced.
All of a sudden I couldn't think of any more animals at the zoo, so I shifted to my backyard. "Squirrels, dogs, cats, birds, coyotes, deer - oops, I think I already said ‘deer.’ Does it still count?"
"Yes, I don't keep track of what you have already said."
"You don't keep track?" I answered. "Then deer, deer, deer, deer…." I looked at her. She wasn't laughing.
"Actually, repeating yourself is a sign of senility." She looked at me, and now it was my turn to not laugh.
"Do insects count as animals?" I asked.
"It doesn't really matter. Don't over-analyze this. Ten seconds."
I just gave up at this point. "Time! Now, what are the three words I read to you earlier?"
“Tree, deer, ballpoint pen, deer, bank, deer.”
The nurse wouldn't tell me how I did on the test, but she didn't send me to a retirement home either, so that is good I guess.
David LeSueur lives in Littleton, Colo., a city with many banks, lots of deer and thousands of trees (none of which is growing ballpoint pens). You can read more of David's writing at http://lesueur926.blogspot.com/