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.  She looked around, from one of us to the other.  Always smiling.

For the most part, for this 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 a 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 on the outside 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 into that 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 not drawing a clock.  Finally after what felt like hours, the person slowly backed out of the car and without hurry took to getting their things.   They stood up straight, once fully 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,  I immediately looked at the clock.  The clock that was hanging on the wall, in front of us all.

I turned to look at the paper.

At the clock that wasn’t there.

The clock that wasn’t there 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.  Who she was.

I hate the clock test.

And what time steals from some people.

It’s horrible.

55 thoughts on “The Clock Test

  1. this is a depressing and very sad story when you must watch the abilities of a human being dwindle. The mind is no longer involved. In such situations, I wishes only that the woman herself is not so conscious of how incapable she has become. Maybe you should just spare her such test?


  2. It is cruel. I have witnessed and administered that test. The only blessing is that eventually we slide beyond the stress of forgetting and just live in the moment. My Mom would show me the delight in every small thing, like the pleasure in eating a Boston Cream donut and enjoying a bit of lively music. A gift to the memory keepers.


  3. May medical advances soon make such tests unnecessary. Thank you for the powerful reminder of what some are going through in life; a reminder to be grateful for all the blessings we have.


  4. Oh Colleen, I so know that feeling of helplessness, while watching/not trying to notice while they’re doing some sort of “Clock Test”, I know when Carole first got MS, and it came upon her quickly, the Doctor was there in our bedroom, asking her “those” questions, “Add up 2+2, what year is it, and tell me the time on THE CLOCK”, and there I was in the room, so wishing and wanting her to give the right answers, and she couldn’t do it……. and hiding behind the Doctor I cried, and they were different tears, not like the ones I’d ever cried before, but unfortunately I came to know them too well………


  5. I will say my Mom couldn’t probably tell you answers to dates or who the President is. She may draw a circle for a clock. But I can say she is still confident and not embarrassed about her forgetfulness either. She shrugs her shoulders and says, “Que sera sera!” Whatever will be will be. . . I wish more people were able to take their decline so unabashedly. 🙂 I pray I will not care or worry but be in the moment. Company, yay! Tests, oh well! 😊 Hahaha 😀


  6. This reminds me of my grandfather. He is 89,alert, & stubborn, but he has outlived many loved ones – including my grandmother.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.