In unscripted moments before the camera, the president sometimes wanders from topic to topic without completing a train of thought, repeating himself or falling back on the same familiar phrases when questioned. He makes statements that defy common sense, like insisting that if there were not so many coronavirus tests conducted, there would not be so many cases of the virus, which as skeptics have pointed out is roughly equivalent to saying that there would not be as many pregnancies if there were not as many pregnancy tests administered.
The Montreal Cognitive Assessment is meant to test for signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other conditions, but the president talked about it on Fox News on Wednesday night as if he had aced an IQ test proving his intelligence. Experts said that reflected a misunderstanding about the purpose and value of the exam.
“It is good that he has a good score, and it’s very good that he has a higher than average score, so this is reassuring in terms of cognitive dysfunction,” Dr. Ziad Nasreddine, the neurologist who created the test, said in an interview. “It obviously does not measure whether a person is fit to be president.”
Dr. Nasreddine said about 10 percent of those in their 70s get a perfect score of 30, but it is meant to detect fading capacity, not intelligence. For those suffering from a degenerative condition, summoning the word for elephant when shown a drawing of it can be frustratingly difficult, and Dr. Nasreddine expressed concern that the mockery the president had experienced might discourage patients from taking the test.
On a sample exam, those tested are asked to draw a clock; to count backward by sevens from 100; to name the date, month, year and place; and to identify drawings of animals like a lion or camel. They are also read a list of five words and asked to repeat them in order twice, then asked that again five minutes later to see if they still recall them.
“They said nobody gets it in order,” Mr. Trump boasted on Wednesday on Fox. “It’s actually not that easy, but for me, it was easy. And that’s not an easy question. In other words, they ask it to you, they give you five names and you have to repeat ’em. And that’s OK. If you repeat ’em out of order, it’s OK, but, you know, it’s not as good. But when you go back about 20, 25 minutes later and they say go back to that — they don’t tell you this — ‘Go back to that question and repeat ’em, can you do it?’ And you go: ‘Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.’”
Mr. Trump insisted that the doctors were blown away by his ability to remember them and suggested that Mr. Biden take it as well. “They say, ‘That’s amazing. How did you do that?’” the president said. “I do it because I have, like, a good memory, because I’m cognitively there. Now, Joe should take that test, because something’s going on. And, and, I say this with respect. I mean — going to probably happen to all of us, right? You know? It’s going to happen.”