How an immigrant to Canada helped Donald Trump prove his mental state

Donald Trump has aced a test on his mental health — likely putting to rest days of Washington political gossip. And one Arab-Canadian couldn't be prouder.

'It's an honour for me to be able to contribute, to assessing the president of the United States'

U.S. President Donald Trump passed his medical with flying colours, according to his doctor, and even scored a perfect 30 out of 30 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

When the White House released the results of a test on Donald Trump's mental acuity Tuesday, showing he aced it, there was one person out there brimming with pride despite not knowing the president.

That person was Ziad Nasreddine — the man who designed the test.

The Lebanese-Canadian neurologist learned from a reporter Tuesday afternoon that the White House had selected the Montreal Cognitive Assessment to test the president's cognitive faculties, after days of speculation about his state.

This was the test Nasreddine developed as a young researcher two decades ago, in an effort to quickly assess, within 10 or 12 minutes, whether someone has suffered light cognitive impairment or the onset of Alzheimer's disease by asking them to perform tasks such as drawing a clock, identifying animals and remembering words.

He says it has now been used in 200 countries, in 60 languages, and has been deployed in one developing country to demonstrate its leader was no longer fit to govern. On Tuesday, the White House said, Trump scored 30 for 30.

"It's really an honour for me," said Nasreddine, now affiliated with McGill and Sherbrooke universities in Quebec. "I'm really thrilled, and happy they decided to use it over other tests."

The White House doctor announced during a briefing with reporters that he selected the Montreal cognitive test among several available. Dr. Ronny Jackson — who also worked with the previous administration, and was praised in social media by former Barack Obama staff — said he never doubted this president's cognitive ability. He said he talks to Trump daily, and didn't feel he even needed the test.

"The president asked me to do it," Jackson said.

Washington had been abuzz in recent days with details from a tell-all-style book suggesting everyone in Trump's entourage questions his mental stability. Trump had responded by referring to himself as a "stable genius," and requested the cognitive exam.

Questions from the Montreal Cognitive Assessment which is capable of assessing within 10 to 12 minutes whether someone is cognitively impaired. (dementia.ie)

Nasreddine cautioned that his exam doesn't test for everything.

It's designed to identify early cognitive decline — not other psychological or personality attributes, such as judgment. He also points out that it can be tricked by someone with a very high level of education.

"The test is a screening measure. It has limitations," he said.

"It's a test mostly for executive functions, and memory. Meaning organization, planning, abstract thinking... (Still), if it's 30 on 30 it's really reassuring — in terms of the ability of the person to have minimum cognitive function to be able to do important things, in terms of language, memory, executive function. It does not absolutely assess personality issues."

He's proud of one other thing about this news.

Immigrants contributing

Nasreddine came to Canada as a teenager with his Druze family during the civil war in his homeland, Lebanon. He was 15. He, his widowed mother, and his sisters came to visit an uncle for the summer on 1983 — and, with their country ravaged by sectarian strife, they stayed.

They applied for permanent residency, he went to school, eventually moved to the U.S. to attend University of California, Los Angeles, and moved home in the 1990s when he designed the cognitive test.

He recognizes the irony of his test having helped a president who kept out war refugees, promoted a Muslim travel ban, is working to end chain migration where relatives help other relatives immigrate and reportedly used crude terms during Oval Office meetings to describe poor countries immigrants come from.

He says he hopes the president draws some lessons from his story.

"I'm an immigrant," said Nasreddine.

"It's an honour for me to be able to contribute, to assessing the president of the United States. No matter who the person is, for me it's an honour. ... I think immigrants can be proud that they are contributing. And this is a good example, I think, that will be helpful to change views about immigration. And maybe for Mr. Trump himself to consider immigrants as contributors to advancing science, advancing our societies."