Alexander Chancellor

Long life | 18 August 2016

The neurologists reckon I have 'a moderate degree of intellectual underfunctioning'. Perhaps. But is that anything new?

In the four months since I had a brain haemorrhage I have had several tests to find out how my mind has been affected. The first tests were conducted in Siena, where I had been taken to hospital after falling ill on a spring holiday in Tuscany. A nice Italian lady showed up with bundles of problems for me to resolve. They ranged from mathematical ones of the sort one used to face at primary school — how many apples costing so much each could be bought with so much money and leave how much change — to finishing incomplete sentences and explaining events or processes depicted in drawings. Although I have never been good at maths, I found the mathematical questions easiest to answer: sometimes the drawings were indecipherable.

Back in London I underwent other tests. Lots of them were to do with memory. I would be told a long number and asked to repeat it backwards, or told a complicated story and asked to recall it after time had passed. There were puzzles to do, like re-arranging shapes and colours in specific forms, and time tests, such as listing in a minute as many possible names of animals or words beginning with the letter ‘t’. I was bad at these, in particular at one in which I was asked to name things that were ‘soft’: cushion, pillow, and baby’s bottom were all I could think of. Some of the tests were much harder than I had expected. One of the worst was trying to complete an unfinished sentence in a way that would be impossible in practice. The mind rebels against talking nonsense: ‘I climbed the mountain and…’ what? Went for a swim?

Finally, therapists at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London have reached some conclusions.

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