Psychologist: We Need to Know if Trump Has Dementia

Source: USA Today Opinion

If Donald Trump were your father, you would run, not walk, to a neurologist for an evaluation of his cognitive health. To mental health professionals like me, the red flags are waving wildly.

In January 2018, a letter was written from 70 psychologists to Dr. Ronny Jackson, the president’s physician, urging him to administer a cognitive exam during the president’s physical. Dr. Jackson did administer the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, a screening tool for dementia, and Trump passed. But while Trump bragged that this proved his superior intelligence, this 10-minute screening test, where one must identify a camel, draw a clock and repeat three numbers backwards, only ruled out full-blown dementia.

Memory loss is the symptom most closely associated with Alzheimer’s. While Trump famously forgets the names of people (as he did recently when he called Apple CEO Tim Cook “Tim Apple”) and places (as when he called Paradise, California, “Pleasure”), one could make allowances for such gaffes. More troubling, Michael Wolff reported in Fire and Fury that at the end of 2017, Trump failed to recognize “a succession of old friends” at Mar-a-Lago.

Trump, 72, seemed to hit a new inflection point when he said, “My father is German. Right? Was German. And born in a very wonderful place in Germany.” In fact, his father was born in the Bronx and it was his grandfather who was from Germany.

Dementia Care International says a “person may start to mix up relationships and generations” in the second stage of dementia. In Alzheimer’s, as language skills deteriorate, we see two types of tell-tale speech disorders. Semantic paraphasia involves choosing the incorrect words. For instance, after Attorney General William Barr released a letter on the Mueller report, Trump said: “I hope they now go and take a look at the oranges, the oranges of that investigation, the beginnings of that investigation.”

Trump’s speech patterns appear even more disordered when you go beyond the sound bite and look at a whole speech. He careens from one thought to the next in a parade of non sequiturs, frequently interrupting himself in the middle of a sentence to veer into another free association. At its extreme, this is called tangential speech. As psychologist Ben Michaelis told Stat, doctors evaluating for Alzheimer’s listen for tangential remarks and non sequiturs and whether the patient can stay on topic.

Americans have a right, indeed an urgent need, to know whether their president is suffering from dementia. We see clear signs that he is, but the only way to find out for sure is to give him a full neuropsychological evaluation and share the results with the American public. The need is more screamingly obvious now than it was a when we first called for it over a year ago.

By: Dr. John Gartner, a psychologist and a former assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.


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