Neurological Baseline Test: How Is Your Mind? (Part 1)
A month after my Parkinson’s diagnosis, I was also “awarded” Lyme Disease. It was like getting a free toaster. Known as the Great Imitator for many similar effects that they have, Lyme often gets confused for PD. However, the main difference is essential tremor versus Parkinson’s resting tremor. Because I had no idea how long I had Lyme, the doctor needed to do a spinal tap to find out if the “bad stuff” was in my cerebrospinal fluid. When people think of spinal taps, they think of root canals on steroids. Fortunately, by the time I asked when the doctor was going to put the needle in, he was already draining my fluids. In the end, it wasn’t Lyme (relief!). That said, I don’t recommend spinal taps for fun, but based on my own personal experiences with it versus the neurological baseline test, I would rather have another spinal tap.
For starters, the spinal tap was in and out. A neurological baseline test day takes about 8 hours. The first 2 of that went well. We discussed my patient history, symptoms, and medicine. After running down an abbreviated version for my therapist the night before, I was ready to take my whole story out on an extended “Phish-“style jam. For the next 6 hours, I tested with only a half hour break.
You can’t study for the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS)-IV test. Unlike the SATs, which allow people to purchase vocabulary lists and sample math problems, everything here is about what you can do on the spot. For instance, there was a spelling test, two math tests, and a Jeopardy-style random facts test. There were also tests that involved making patterns and changing letters into code. Of all the tests, I found the most interesting one was a tactual performance test, which was done one-handed and blindfolded. If you’re into challenges or teaching young kids empathy, have them do 10 shapes in 10 minutes with their non-dominant hand only!
Additionally, I took a Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF-A) test that reminded me one of those honesty tests people used to take for jobs. My wife took it, too. The test is not specifically-designed for Parkinson’s, as it features questions on a range of issues, but it does focus on consistency.
In large part, the test is about memory. I did well on some of the memory stuff. That said, the tester spoke at showed stuff in a way that I felt was quick.
At one point, I heard long statements to repeat back to the tester. I felt like the first morning I was in Basic Training. The instructors named me chow runner for messing up badly the previous night. My assignment that day was to read 3 different statements to 3-5 different training instructors every time we ate. As I tried to remember the words, the instructors would yell at me. At one point, they got sick of me messing up and told me to go tell 47 other guys that they couldn’t eat because I did so poorly. That was singularly one of the top 3 worst moments of my life. Fortunately, I got another chance, and we ate. On a positive note, I learned to speak in public confidently.
On that Friday in September 2018, the test overwhelmed me with its abundance of information to memorize and repeat.
The tester read a list of 12 or so items that had no relation (for example, kangaroo avocado). When the tester asked, I had to respond “avocado” if they said “kangaroo.” I felt overwhelmed and wanted to stop. I wasn’t processing the list. Here, I had a choice: I test or I don’t test on that whole section of neurological baseline test and not get an accurate score. As I do with most situations where my Parkinson’s irritability comes to play on my anxiety and depression, I find a way to step back and try to atone for what I know is the wrong behavior. I apologize profusely, suck it up, and do what I need to do. That doesn’t make it easy, but it plays the game that lets doctors help me.
Of course, there was also the techno Morse Code sound beeps rhythm differentiation test. I couldn’t hear any difference in those high-pitched beeps. There was also the Booklet Category Test, which asks test subjects to pick a number for how many objects they see. The test starts out easy, but it switches to a series of random colors and shapes and patterns. For every answer, my tester responded, “Incorrect.”
My Parkinson’s mind couldn’t grasp some of the “codes” at all. I felt like I was being taught basketball by an NBA Player. What I heard would have been like Lebron telling me “in your face, blocked, or denied” every time I couldn’t dunk on him. Eventually, I had to admit to guessing because I had no clue what the “code” was.
In the end
I survived. Some people who test, don’t finish. I can see why. It’s not easy to have spent our whole life using our brains and to end up feeling like we’re “losing our minds.” This is not an easy situation to remedy.
I’ll get my neurological baseline test results back in a few weeks. This is a part of the disability process, so it’s important to know where I am. Financial concerns and disability provisions are essential.
Just as there is no guide to study, it’s also not true to say that, “It’s not a test of you; it’s a test on math.” The Neurological Baseline Test really is a test of us.
The best advice I can give is to go in strong, believe in the outcome, work through your limitations, and do what you need to do. I know it sounds like I’m saying, “You’ll do it and you’ll like it,” but I’m really saying, “Tests don’t have to be fun to be beneficial.”