Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Cognitive Testing

"Listen closely," she said, "to the problem. You may not take notes. Just remember what I say and then tell me your answer."

"OK," I said.

"Last year, profits for a company were $20,000. This year those profits increased by 20%."

I thought about this increase, and how it was a pretty hefty bump to profits, as my eyes and attention wandered to the skin of her belly showing between the buttons of her blouse. She was the "tech" charged with administering parts of a battery of tests that would measure my cognitive and memory function. This one was about math and memory.

"Next year, profits will increase by 15% over this year." She looked up from her script at me looking down at the openings in her blouse and the revealed belly button.

"What are the total gross earnings of the three years?"

I thought about it. Twenty thousand plus $20,000 plus $4,000, plus that plus $3,600 would be about $71,600 I guessed. I had trouble following her after the second year, and could just barely hang on to the train of sums into the third year. I had to fight down a panic that I wasn't understanding what she was saying. I'm not an accountant.I fought to focus. My shoulders and neck were as tight as banjo strings.

She offered no clue about the correctness or lack thereof of my answer as she made a note on her pad.

The tests continued all day -- eight hours -- and ranged from drawing a geometric design from memory to clicking a counter with my thumb as fast as I could. I did puzzles, took multiple choice tests about lists, and saw only a little of my tech's pale skin.

I wanted to do well, but kept wandering all over in my thoughts. I just couldn't seem to focus on the tasks, even if I could do them. Not being able to focus raised my anxiety so high it could have lifted, in not gone through, the roof.

Beneath the anxiety, of course, is the fear that I am losing it. I fear that I am losing it just as my mother did when she was my age. The signs are all there: I don't know where I am sometimes; I can't pull necessary words out of my memory when I need them; I lose track of tasks when I move from one to the next; I talk nonsense to myself, "Ooga-booga," and swear a lot.

Then there are the stacks and stacks of paper at work that I can't seem to find the time or energy to process.

I remember days when my brain would do things without my applying much effort. Those days are long gone, and I have to think -- hard -- to get even basic work done.

I can't seem to focus on what is right in front of me. 

As the test continued, I blew the word problems, could not recall simple images, couldn't concentrate on complex progressions or engage with problems like I usually do.

It was embarrassing. I began to see why I am living a disoriented and somewhat sloppy existence. It is, in part, because my brain just can't seem to process as well.

A few weeks later, when I went in for the results, I got the news that I am still OK, more or less. They said I have a high IQ, but that I am also slightly memory impaired, and suffer from extreme anxiety. The anxiety is actually part of the cause of the impairment they think. I worry too damned much, but there really is something "off."

They said I need to work more at focusing, connecting, engaging. They said my tendency to isolate and retreat is leading me into some kind of fantasy world of my own making.

Well, duh! I thought.

They said that I have been lucky in life, that my brain has been something like a Ferrari, using a car analogy. Now, however, they said, you have more of a Corolla. I guess a Corolla is OK. It's driveable, but I had to wonder what year and how many miles and how many more years it might last. 

I'd like to be able to continue to coast along like everything is OK, but the reality of decline is no longer avoidable.

My days working may be numbered, not because I can retire, but because I can no longer function. Each trip to the mountains may be the last I take. The reality is sinking in. Soft fabric covers more and more of the belly buttons.

The question of what to do, how to respond remains, lingers, growing in quiet urgency.

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