The Clock Test

Years ago I sat in a very small apartment.  I sat with an elderly woman.  A doctor.  And his nurse.   I was fairly new to my job of investigating abuses against the elderly.

She was tiny.   Grey.  Beautiful smile.  And very nervous.

For the most part of her life she was alone.  She had family.   And they cared.  But they lived far away. And she wasn’t herself any longer.  Not the confident, capable and understanding mom, sister and aunt they always knew.    She was confused, unaware and mostly lost.

How we got to this point I don’t remember.  Other than the doctor was there and I was a witness to some cognitive testing.  The first time I had ever witnessed it.   Part of it being the “clock test”.

I watched her.  The doctor gave her a piece of paper and kindly asked her to draw a clock.  She looked at the paper as he handed her a pen.  She looked back at him.  She told him she didn’t understand.  It was painful, for me, to watch.   As the minutes ticked by he described to her numerous times on what he wanted her to do.  He remained patient and calm with her.  He told her to draw the face of a clock.   In different ways he tried to prod her memory to what a clock was.

At one point she drew a shape.  Part of it was round at the bottom but the top of it came to funny shape.  Almost like that of the top of a triangle sitting on top of a box when roughly drawing the shape of a  house as a five year old.

I looked away.  I felt intrusive.  I felt frustrated and ashamed of myself for watching her struggle and her suffering.   I looked back when I heard the scritch of pen on paper and saw her draw a line out side of the shape.   A line to nothing.

Her apartment was at the front of the building.   Above the main entrance to her building.  Over looking the parking lot.   I watched the lot as a car approached and pulled in to the lot.  It was probably only seconds as I waited for that person to exit.  I knew that would happen.   I could count on it.   I focused on that person instead of what was going on in this room.   The person in the car had turned around after exiting, and leaned back in to the car.  There was nothing of interest to watching this person.  But it felt less cruel to watch the car person than the little lady with the paper.  Finally after what felt like hours, the person backed out of the car and without hurry took to getting their things.   They stood up straight out of the car they had backed back out of.   I saw them reach for the door to close it.   I saw it.   And as I heard the car door slam,  immediately looked at the clock.

I turned to look at the paper.

At the clock that wasn’t there.

But was ticking by with the loss of her ability.  The loss of her character.  The loss of who she was.  The ticking stole with it’s every click a little bit more of her grasp on what her world was.

I hate the clock test.

And what time steals from some people.

It is horrible.






A very true story that I have seen play out too many times.  

Daily prompt you took me to another time with this.  And time is not always friendly.

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47 thoughts on “The Clock Test

  1. bikebrown says:

    This just scares the hell out of me. I can’t imagine the loss of who you are and what you know. Of course doctors will have to change this test in the future because kids now would have to draw a digital clock.

  2. […] The Clock Test | The Chatter Blog […]

  3. I used to work in a retirement community for senior citizens and this was always heart breaking for me too. The worst was when we had married couples and one of them was beginning to show signs of senility and the spouse tried desperately to cover for them so they wouldn’t lose them to the nursing home even though they weren’t capable of caring for them.

    • I see this SO much. Where together they compensate for one another’s declines. Then one declines too far, and the other can’t make the difference. The folks I see in this situation are at home and not willing or able to see they need help, or fear the separation, or lack of funding to pay for care.

  4. […] The Clock Test | The Chatter Blog […]

  5. […] The Clock Test | The Chatter Blog […]

  6. Yaz says:

    I feel that when we get to this stage, that we have already started exiting human life, and are back and forth. It is part of the dying process. If you look at it this way, Colleen, it is less painful to watch. But people who make the transition to the other life in this slow manner, need to be looked after with love and care. My aunt went slightly nutty before she died, but it was obvious that she was back and forth from this world to the next. In some ways it was pleasant, but she definitely lost her human faculties. The way we respond depends on which way we look at it. Thanks for a lovely article Colleen.

    • I think I need to try this actively with the people I come across. See if, when working on how to help them, if that helps me accept what I am seeing. Not their decline, but their “exiting”. Thanks Yaz. That might help.

      • Yaz says:

        I’ve always said that if we all just become more observant, we’ll see the truth of life for what it is. Perhaps you might want to make a note of the patterns that you see as you observe each person, Colleen. I’d love to read your words a year or so from now, see what you see. Lots of love.

  7. MiniMentals are always so hard to take part in, especially when the result proves an negative outcome. I have seen it happen that once the person is in a safe environment that understands dementia and is supported rather than isolated, the results actually improve. But not often enough. I have a lingering thought that won’t go away that they will have to change that test since the current generations have no idea of what a clock looks like. Most of the young kids only tell time by digital clocks and watches.
    Excellent poignant post Colleen.

    • Husband says the same thing about the clock test Chris.

      This was the first time I had ever seen it. It shook me up. And I felt her agitation. I’ve seen more since that one. It never gets easier.

      Like you I’ve seen those who have been isolated in their decline “improve” with socialization, nutrition and care. But not enough to change what has happened. It is heartbreaking beyond my capability to describe it.

  8. […] The Clock Test | The Chatter Blog […]

  9. […] The Clock Test | The Chatter Blog […]

  10. i used to work as a care aid for seniors and it’s so heartbreaking, but watching the families pain as they grief the loss of who their loved one once was, is equally as painful

  11. lexiesnana says:

    Heartbreaking Colleen.That is why we need people that care like you.When I have my clock test I want you by my side.

  12. viveka says:

    Yes, it’s a horrifying thought that maybe … one day .. it can be me. So glad that my mum is clear as crystal ball, but at times I wonder if it had been better for her .. not knowing how the shape of your body and the state that is in. Maybe she had been a lot happier if she wasn’t aware of that her body has given up on her and all those medicines. It’s a tricky thing.
    I was so afraid that I will lose it when I stopped working – have worked since I was 16. And if I hadn’t had my computer .. I probably would have gone with the fairies. If my mind can’t be busy … I done. *smile – very sad story, but … it is something that will happen to far too many of us. Wonderful written.

    • I’ve seen people in good physical shape who have lost their cognitive ability to think, process or act as “themselves” in any way. I’ve seen mentally sharp and witty persons who have no physical ability to care for themselves in any manner. It’s terribly difficult. And you are so right, it happens to too many of us. It does scare me. Terribly.

      Thank you Viveka.

      • viveka says:

        The thing is that we are not aware of when it happens – we are happy where we are – but it’s hard on those that loves us.
        The founder of the company I worked for 35 years with – he are 95 now – but been gone with the fairies for years, but his family has come to terms with it – and his son that now runs the companies said that so long as dad is happy where he is – we are happy. I think that is so great and unselfish.

        • Very unselfish. I wish we had family members like this, when we get calls to check on someone. Sadly, and often, we get called to investigate and there are no family (or any who care). I have gone to some situations where the person we have been called on to go check, is “in and out” and when they know they are losing their faculties they are terribly scared.

          I wish for all of our seniors going through this to have a family like your company’s founder.

  13. When I was in Grad school at UCLA (in their NP program) my sub-specialty was Gerontology. As we were studying and visiting Alzheimer patients in the clinical rotation my mother was struggling with the transitional period where she knew enough to shake her head and pretend she knew what was going on. She died shortly after I graduated at the age of 88 from Alzheimer. She was always the smart one in the family, good at math, and it was quite a reality shakeup to see her fade, but I never felt she completely disappeared because right up to the end when I would tell her, “I love you,” she would say back to me, “The feeling is mutual.” It’s as if divine intervention gave me that balm to ease my heartbreak. You write so beautifully, Colleen and I’m truly grateful for this connection with you. Paulette

    • Thank you Paulette. I have seen this so much in my work world that it scares me, for “my” world. Husband I discuss it often. I have often left work shook up because of the emotional impact I’ve witnessed children or spouses dealing with as their parent or spouse loses a little more of themselves almost daily. It’s difficult to help them through sometimes. I’m glad your mom shared your love, that is a very sweet memory.

  14. […] to write this after being over at The Chatter Blog, where Colleen wrote a lovely post called ‘The Clock Test’. The Clock Test is a simple diagnostic evaluation that is used by psychologists as a screening tool […]

  15. Patty B says:

    I felt as if I was there…how sad.

  16. Mustang.Koji says:

    Readers can well sense the uncomfortableness you were experiencing. I, too, would have tried to look away or occupy my sight with some other object. And it is frightening to realize this can happen to you if you are fortunate to reach a mellow old age.

  17. mswestfall says:

    A wonderful, powerful post about something we ALL hate to think about! You made me feel as if I was there with you, the doctor and the lovely woman. Again, another wonderful post! I needed a tissue with this one.

    • Thank you Marsha. I’m glad you felt the moment. It still fills me with a little fear, a lot of sadness, but she was taken care of, which is what was important.

      • mswestfall says:

        With you there, I know she was in good hands! Again, thank you for sharing your powerful experience and letting us know there are people who are taking such good care of the elderly since may are lost and forgotten.

  18. God bless you! I don’t know how you do it. This post was heart wrenching to me. Not sure why I hadn’t come across it until today (thanks to Yaz). Weird things happening with my Reader here. I’m missing my favorite bloggers! Thank you for sharing this!

    • The Reader is tripping me up as well. So far I think I am still getting everyone via email as well (I get a very full email box every morning!)

      Thanks for the nice words. Sometimes I don’t know how any of us get through this stuff. But for those faces who look at us not knowing….

  19. Several of my followers are home caretakers to parents with Alzheimer and it is painful to read the descriptions of the mental evaporation of their loved one.

    • Unfortunately I see this on a very large scale because of my job. It never, ever, is easy to see. I cannot imagine what the families go through. I hope they are nearer to help for them. “Mental Evaporation”. Very eloquent, and descriptive, term.

  20. […] The Clock Test | The Chatter Blog […]

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