What the Sharing of Trump's Cognitive Evaluation Means for the Medical World

Jul 23, 2018

In January of this year, president Trump’s physician announced the results of his annual physical, including a cognitive evaluation. President Trump is thought to be the first sitting president to undergo such a cognitive evaluation, and it grabbed a fair bit of media attention. Many news outlets not only shared the result, but many shared the test, itself, or information about it.

A new study looked at how widely the test - called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment - was shared, and warns that it could be an issue for practicing psychologists. 


“There’s potential for eroding the sensitivity of the test for its primary purpose of identifying mild cognitive impairment,” Eric Coomes, resident physician at the University of Toronto, and co-author of the study said.


Coomes and his colleagues searched for media releases on the topic as a part of the study and found that there were 405 articles in the search and that 190 of them discussed the Montreal Cognitive Assessment specifically in relation to President Trump’s evaluation.


“We were surprised to see that not only was the test itself conceptually discussed, but over half of the media releases on this topic actually revealed directly parts or all of the content of the questionnaire,” Coomes said.


And according to Coomes, one in six of those media releases asked the reader to self-administer the test. This could create what Coomes calls, a “learning effect” which basically means that the exposure could prepare the individual for the test, making it easier to pass. 


Fortunately, there are different versions of the test with slight variations in content, which may provide an avenue to overcome a learning effect.


There’s another way to avoid false results too: doctors should ask patients if they're familiar with the Montreal Cognitive Assessment before administering it.