Gillian Jones: Could Trump be cognitively disabled?

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NORTH ADAMS — I'm not looking to give an armchair diagnosis of President Trump here. Just because my mom has dementia doesn't mean I am an expert, by any means. I had the diagnosis of a neurologist, who had been her physician for many years.

So, what makes me think that our president is suffering the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer's?

Many have suggested that he already suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. That is not my area of expertise, and not something I want to address in a column about caregiving, elder issues and dementia.

I believe that character and behavior traits that Donald Trump has exhibited throughout his life have become exaggerated since he took office. Dementia or Alzheimer's is also genetic — and Fred Trump, the president's father, had Alzheimer's for six years before he died in 1999.

Will we ever know for sure? Probably not until many years from now. When President Reagan came out in 1994 to admit he was suffering from Alzheimer's, many people were not surprised. They believed he manifested symptoms during his time in office. He died 10 years later in 2004 of pneumonia and Alzheimer's.

According to Alzheimer's Research UK: "Most people associate dementia with memory loss, but the condition affects people in a wide variety of ways. That might include changes in behavior, confusion and disorientation, delusions and hallucinations, difficulty communicating, problems judging speeds and distances and even cravings for particular foods. Everyone's experience of dementia is different."

In Michael Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury," he said that White House insiders speculated that Trump might be in "the early stages of dementia." Omarosa, who has known Trump for many years, writes about his mental decline in her book, "Unhinged." Because she has known him so long, she may be uniquely qualified to see the change.

But you don't have to be a White House insider to observe him publicly and witness his slurred speech to minor abnormalities in his movements, erratic behavior and incendiary comments.

In December 2017, while speaking about his national security plan in Washington D.C., Trump reached under the podium and grabbed a glass with both hands, like a toddler. His slurring could be the result of anything from a dry mouth or a displaced denture to an acute stroke, according to neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta.

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Trump actually used to be more articulate. There is a clear reduction in his linguistic sophistication. His stories used to have a beginning, middle and end. Now he jumps around from thought to thought and has come to rely on a select few adjectives, often involving superlatives; such as the best or worst.

Trump was 70. Reagan was 69. Experts have argued that there was evidence of linguistic change and decline over the course of Reagan's presidency. Reagan was elected to his second term at age 73.

An inability to consistently remember facts, respond appropriately to the circumstances of his surroundings and mental lapses are symptoms of dementia and have been exhibited by President Trump.

In March of 2017, Trump forgot to sign two executive orders before leaving a signing ceremony for those orders. On July 5, 2017, Trump, after landing on Air Force One, appeared confused and wandered away from his waiting limo. On October 12, 2017, Trump forgot to sign the Trumpcare executive order before leaving the ceremony. He was ushered back by Vice President Pence.

Right now American presidents are not required to pass mental health exams or psychological and psychiatric evaluations. In the mid-1990s, former President Jimmy Carter pushed for the creation of a panel of physicians who would routinely evaluate the president and decide whether his or her judgment was clouded by a mental disability.

"Many people have called to my attention the continuing danger to our nation from the possibility of a U.S. president becoming disabled, particularly by a neurologic illness," Carter wrote in a December 1994 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Carter's suggestion led to the creation in 1994 of the Working Group on Presidential Disability, whose members later proposed a nonpartisan, standing medical commission "to monitor the president's health and issue periodic reports to the country." Carter envisioned a panel of expert physicians who were not directly involved in the care of the president determining whether he had a disability. But 25 years later, there is no standing commission in place.

Cognitive decline due to aging must be addressed with all elected officials, from the president to senators, congressmen and Supreme Court justices. A mental fitness test is a necessary assessment and is as important as a physical fitness test. And it must be done by an independent panel of physicians.

It's hard enough to take the car keys away from a stubborn, fiercely independent, aging parent. I wouldn't begin to know how to effect the resignation of the president of the United States.

Gillian Jones, an Eagle photojournalist, is writing a regular oped column on issues related to caregiving.


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