The test he’s trying to forget
Or maybe I run into you on Sonora’s Washington Street. “Chris!” you say. “Great to see you again.” I smile back, mumble something, and keep walking. I have absolutely no idea who you are.
Or I might be talking to my daughter, imparting some gem of fatherly wisdom. “Dad,” she interjects, “you told me that yesterday. And on Tuesday.”
I’m 67 and some memory deterioration, I’m told, is to be expected. But my lapses have been frequent enough that I took the test. The SAGE Test.
No, SAGE is not a measure of sagacity or wisdom, on which I would have certainly fallen short. Nor is it a test on spices, covering parsley, rosemary as well as sage. I would have flunked that one too.
Instead it stands for “Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam.” The docs at Ohio State came up with the 12-question quiz, aimed at detecting “early signs cognitive, memory or thinking impairments.”
In other words, it’s supposed to tell me if I’m losing it. And whether, in a decade or two, I will not only forget why I went to the pantry, but I won’t be able to find my way out.
I heard about the SAGE test on NBC News a couple of weeks ago, as did millions more memory-impaired fellow geezers. Suddenly the online exam went viral. Computer servers at Ohio State crashed as we oldsters tried again and again and again and again to download a test that might hint that we should have stopped trying to do this hours earlier.
I printed SAGE out the next day, read the first question, and got a sinking feeling. “What is today’s date?” it read. “From memory – no cheating!”
“Totally irrelevant!” I thought.
Consider this: I’m retired, have been for nearly three years and have no need to know what today’s date is. Or tomorrow’s or the next day’s. I don’t have places to go, people to meet, and deadlines to beat (as the few readers of this blog well know). So I dismissed it as a trick question aimed at getting us retirees to quickly schedule $150-an-hour appointments with the shrinks who probably commissioned the test.
Anyway, I took a stab at the date and, amazingly, got it right.
I also was able to identify pictures of a wreath and a volcano, calculate how many nickels are in 60 cents, and draw the face of a clock reading 11:05. Then came Question 6, the memory test: “At the bottom of the exam’s last page, write ‘I am done’ on the blank line provided.” Piece of cake, I thought, and moved on.
I wrote the names of a dozen different animals (“Don’t worry about spelling,” the instruction advised), drew lines to connect a sequence of letters and numbers, wrote how a watch and a ruler are similar, and moved some lines around to turn triangles into squares. Then came Question 12: “Have you finished?” followed by the earlier threatened blank line.
I froze. What was it I supposed to write? And how am I to remember something I read three whole minutes ago? Was this another trick question? Would a small essay on the advantages of selective memory loss get me any points? Or would a mistake here be counterbalanced by spelling “hyena” and “giraffe” correctly on my animal list?
“I am finished,” I wrote, and I was. I lost a point on Question 12 and another for not precisely following directions on the triangles-squares thing. But I did get 20 of 22 points, rated as “normal.”
What irked me, however, is that someone who wrote “reeth,” “valcaino,” “high-eeena,” “dawg,” “jiraff” and “skwirrell” could have beaten my score.
Nevertheless, as instructed, I took my completed SAGE test to my primary care physician, Dr. Jim Mosson.
“What’s today’s date?” he asked. As I had taken the test several hours earlier, Jan. 19 had become a part of my long-term memory, and I retrieved it.
“OK,” Dr. Mosson continued. “Who is the vice president?”
“Joe Biden,” I answered. Being a political junkie, I was tempted to reel off a list of veeps, then add that Henry Cabot Lodge had been Nixon’s running mate in 1960 and that William Miller had run with Goldwater in ’64. But I figured that just might make me certifiable.
“You’re fine,” Jim declared, saying he had no need to actually look at my SAGE test. “But why is this suddenly an issue?”
I told him of my inability to recognize acquaintances on the street. “Happens to me all the time,” he said.
Then, I added, my daughter complains that I tell her things three and four times. “Our daughter does the same thing,” chimed in Jim’s wife, Nancy, from the reception desk.
“Here’s the thing,” said Dr. Mosson. “Even if you had blown every question on the SAGE test, there’s nothing I could do to help you. And at this point, I only have one piece of advice.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Don’t play pro football. Those concussions can really damage your brain,” he said.
I assured him I had no plans to try out for the Raiders, even though the Silver and Black played like senior citizens this season. I added I would also do my best not to fall off my bike.
“Bike?” Dr. Mosson said. “Reminds me of this doctor friend of mine who used to ride motorcycles without a helmet. Now he’s on a bicycle, riding about 5 mph, with a helmet and…”
“You told me that story last time I was in here,” I jibed.
Which made me feel better about my own cognitive abilities and better yet that I had gone to a doctor about my age to ask about them.
None of which means, however, that I should be sent to the pantry without a list. And maybe a map back to the kitchen.
Want to try your luck at the SAGE test? Click on this link