A baseline for my brain

Today was a day of milestones (and mile-markers, I suppose). This morning I had a neuropsychological assessment to try to establish a baseline reference for the cognitive functions of my brain. R is a psychologist who performs neuropsych assessments, and I’ve been her guinea pig in the past when she was practicing administering some of the tests using modern technology (iPads) instead of the briefcases of booklets and cards that have been the standard for decades. So, I suppose I had a little bit of an edge in this scenario.

There’s a whole battery of tests that the neuropsychologist can choose from depending on what she wants to measure. My neuropsychologist went kind of easy on me, choosing a set of tests that only took about an hour and half to complete. The tests are kind of all over the map testing everything from short term memory and recall to motor function and visual/spatial reasoning. Here are a few (of the many) I did: 1) listening to a long(ish) list of words and then repeating as many of those words back as possible, 2) copying (drawing) a complex geometric figure from a printout to a blank sheet of paper, and 3) a fun little puzzle consisting of a base with three vertical rods embedded in it and up to 5 cylindrical discs of varying sizes with holes in the middle that stack on the rods. The psychologist places the discs in a set configuration to start and shows me a target configuration (typically a stack with increasing diameter as you go down – a sort of pyramid shape). The only two rules are a) you may move only one piece at a time, and b) you may not put a large disc on top of a smaller disc*.

So, how’d it go? We’ll, I’ll be honest, remembering words is tedious and I get tired of it relatively quickly. I was a little surprised at how poor my drawing skills were. I’m a doodler. Always have been. It’s one of the things I love about mechanical engineering – the sketching. I had a hard time copying a cube in perspective; the intersections of lines were sloppy; I couldn’t get the diagonals and vertical and horizontal dividers of a square to intersect at a point in the center. It was a little unsettling. I’m going to need to practice sketching again – I can think of worse ways to spend my time. Finally, the discs puzzle was simultaneously fun and disconcerting. I kept stumbling into the algorithm and realizing it wasn’t terribly difficult, but then it’d slip away from me and I’d get stuck for a second. It’s hard to “play” when you feel like some of your self-worth is bound up in your ability to solve this puzzle. In the end, I was able to complete them all up to five discs, but I have no idea if my scores were “good.” We’ll find that out on Wednesday. At first blush, based on his experience the neuropsychologist said he sees nothing of concern – hooray for more snippets of good news.

I’m hopeful that some of my pursuits and projects (some of which I’ve documented on this blog) that depend heavily on my spatial memory and reasoning won’t be too negatively impacted by my condition, but I think it’s going to take some intentional practicing and maybe a little bit of struggle before I can start feeling “normal” again. Diving back into the Digital Joinery Project will be the real test.

*Addendum: A quick Google search has just revealed that the disc-stacking puzzle is a version of the famous Tower of Hanoi puzzle. I remember classmates agonizing over solutions to that puzzle in introductory CS classes in college. I really should have paid more attention in CS106A. (Actually, I paid quite a lot of attention in that class, and it’s still one of my favorites from undergrad, thanks in large part to Mehran Sahami‘s amazing teaching.)

2 Responses

  1. I have several nice wooden Towers of Hanoi puzzles that we use in Discrete, and we can totally practice together before your next test so that you can amaze the doctors with some lightning-fast solving! (Hi! So good to see you on Sunday. You look and sound so great!)

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