Clock of the Week

Dr. Michael Sefton at Boston Museum of Fine Arts
WESTBOROUGH, MA September 15, 2017  Much has been published about the utility of the clock drawing in making preliminary assumptions about the cognitive health of an individual who may be referred for neuropsychological assessment.  I use it all the time and those of you who have submitted clocks for publication here agree with my assumptions.  The photograph at the left was taken at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts by a colleague Dr. David Kent, a neuropsychologist from Worcester, MA. There are several posts that identify some of the literature behind the assumptions I make about clock drawing and cognition.  Here is another link: Clocks and cognition



Click and see the interesting “Clock of the week


The results of postmortem examination of over 100 brains of NFL athletes are in

WESTBOROUGH,MA July 25, 2017 The laboratory at the Boston University School of Medicine has recently completed its initial examination of over 100 brains donated by the family members of those athletes who have died because of marked behavior and personality changes attributed to playing football.  The results confirm the presence of destructive proteins that have come to be known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  This was first reported over 10 years ago and was featured in the movie Concussion released in 2015 starring Will Smith as Bennet Omalu, M.D. who first reported on the syndrome.

The Trial and Error Associated with Cognitive Decline

Westborough, MA May 25, 2017 Cognitive changes are common in patients with dementia. They become increasingly problematic with the disease progression. Some people suffering with dementia have difficulty with even the most basic activity of daily living like dressing themself.  Things taken for granted like following directions become a chore as the progression of dementia effects individuals who suffer with the disease.  This places a great burden on caregivers who must take over those important functions of daily life.
The clock drawing has been a feature on my blog for several years.  It is fun to see people work through the task.  Most people complete the task effortlessly.  Some are a bit defensive because it seems like such a benign request – “draw a clock…” and I often get “I am not an artist…” in anticipation of failure.  I have published over a dozen posts about the clock drawing as a measure of cognitive functioning.  Patient with dementia often experience a slow cognitive decline whereby even tasks like constructing a clock become a challenge.

The clocks drawn in this post reflect the effort of a person of 89-years of age who tried very hard to get it right.  She had enough preservation of her self- monitoring
Dementia_Clock female 89 Scan
3 Clocks drawn in succession by 89-year old female with hypoxia and underlying dementia of Alzheimer’s type – note size in centimeters 

that she could tell something was wrong.  As you can see the left most circle was the first attempt.  It was too small according to the patient and she wanted to try again.  The middle clock was her next attempt and shows her disorganization and minimal change in the size of the drawing – approximately 3 centimeters in size. In the center of the drawing there are 2 hands that roughly represent the time 11:10.  She told me she needed more space to place the hands so that they could be clearly read and offered to try a third time.  On the right is her final attempt.  There are two hands (to the right of the number 9 and a second pointing to the number 2). As you can see the circle is only 2 cm in size and was a modest improvement over the first two attempts.
She had fun drawing the clock and did not feel as though she had failed the task. I was encouraging and praised her for staying with the task. At some point she had lost her capacity to plan and execute her visual motor function of crafting the circle.  Each attempt was made with the goal of drawing a larger circle. This fine woman was still capable of doing many of her activities of daily living and enjoying her friends and family.  She was not at all upset that I had been asked to help with her care.
Dementia requires family support and can be costly to those in need of care.  The risk of caregiver fatigue exists in all families.  As much as possible, I enourage people to allow the patient to work toward completing their own self-care unless there are risks such as falling due to poor balance. This requires herculean patience and sensitivity because there is often a degree of “awareness” of the cognitive changes experienced by the patient himself. Preserved dignity and sense of independence go a long way toward quality of life in the latter stages of dementia.  Most spouses will do whatever it takes to support a loved one with whom they have shared 50 or more years of marriage and experience the decline in functioning as both a personal failure and a heart breaking loss.

Clock of the week – a man of Trump’s age

Drawn by 70-year old male
WESTBOROUGH, MA November 10, 2016 You may be interested in the Clock of the week on this day after the presidential election of Donald J. Trump.  It was drawn by a male with obvious cognitive dysfunction.  The task is simple – draw a clock and set the hands for 11:10. In this case the patient became stuck. He asked me “how do I do it” and I replied start with the circle.  As you may notice the man drew the large circle quite well.  I thought to myself “hmm, not bad”.  Next he drew one small circle after another.  Finally he was able to approximate the minute hand only – as you can plainly see it is set juxtapose where the 2 might be.
Dementia is an insidious neurological disease that robs patients of their mental functioning – including memory, problem solving and the capacity to think with critical acumen.  The late president Ronald Reagan succumbed to dementia of the Alzheimer’s type in 2004 after a decade of declining cognitive prowess.  He was 69 when he entered the White House. It has grown more prevalent in the past decade. Neuropsychologists are uniquely qualified to manage the cognitive and behavioral changes associated with dementia. There is no cure for dementia at the present time. Exercise and mental activity are two components of maintaining a healthy mind and body into one’s old age.  My practice is filled with older patients many of whom do not believe in the adage about old age being “the golden years”.  In fact, many older patients are lonely and demoralized.  Many are afraid of what the next president may do to their healthcare, housing and social security pensions.
Let us hope that our next president will maintain his mental faculties well into old age. His somewhat unbridled behavior is not unlike that of patients suffering with some forms of dementia that negatively impacts judgment, planning and decision-making. Mr. Trump will be 70 years old when he enters the White House in January 2017.  The oldest man to ever be elected to the office of the president.

Delirium: sudden onset often lingering emotional impact

Patients with ICU delirium are less likely to survive and more likely to suffer long-term cognitive damage if they do.  STAT Boston Globe taken 10-17-2016
Try as he might a patient with delirium cannot complete simple tasks according to Sefton.

Perseveration, severation, eration, ation

WESTBOROUGH, MA October 14, 2016 What does the term ‘to perseverate’ refer to in clinical terms.  The media attached below will illustrate the concept of perseveration in its clinical presentation. The patient was asked to copy her name.  A model was presented for her by the examiner. Most people have control over behavior through a series of feedback loops that become active in the brain that allow for anticipatory awareness and behavioral prospective as a person reaches full cognitive maturity.  Patients who are recovering from right hemisphere lesions often exhibit the pattern

Patient asked to copy her name – Frances

of repetition without regard for how appropriate the pattern may be in respect to the task demand. You can see that the patient draws what appear to be tee pee shaped figures and two horizontal lines – perhaps a modified upper case A.  Meanwhile, she repeated the figure until she ran out of paper at the bottom margin.  In blogs already published I have mentioned the term perseveration and made an effort to illustrate its unusual presentation. One can see in the feature image a circular pattern of zeros as a patient attempted the clock drawing.  The patient got stuck making the number 0.  In the recent blog on this topic, I posted a video for the readers use that shows one case of perseveration in an older patient drawing circles over and over.


The term refers to the pattern of repeated motor movement in spite of the indication (or feedback) that the response is no longer needed or is inappropriate.  As you can see by this drawing the individual continued to make the same pattern over and over without regard for the task I had assigned – copy your name.

Treatment from serious stroke require months of cognitive rehabilitation in addition to physical and occupational therapy.  patients must be taught to recognize their cognitive vulnerability to errors like this.  As recovery is made most patients establish improved self-monitoring to compensate for their weaknesses. But some fail to re-establish the feedback loops and awareness that allow them to live in the world with the immediate awareness that once is enough and it is okay to stop.

What is encephalopathy?

80-year old right handed woman with sepsis and hypoxemia

WESTBOROUGH, MA October 7, 2016 The clock of the week brings up an interesting question.  What is encephalopathy? I hear that all the time from patients and more likely, family members who are confused as to the definition of encephalopathy.  I will make an effort in this blog to provide some explanation for this.  Look at the clock and see that is quite confused.  Remember prior published clocks and the fact that the directions are exactly the same for every person.  “Draw the face of a clock, put all the numbers on it and set the hands for 11:10”.  Essentially it is a three step command that requires both attention and problem solving.  In prior published blogs and You Tube videos I have made an effort to illustrate the range of clocks given by patients of various diagnostic classifications.

Encephalopathy is a common manifestation in patients with sepsis (infectious illness) such as pneumonia and urinary track infection, delayed hemodialysis, and many others. In refers to brain dysfunction often due to multifactorial issues including metabolic and infectious causes.  According to the Health Line encephalopathy may be temporary or permanent.  The patient who created the illustrated drawing was very cooperative but subject to altered mental status when getting sick, fatigued or on dialysis days.  The treatment for encephalopathy depends on the underlying reason for the AMS but largely is treating the symptom picture to manage the patient comfortably.

“I want you to make up a sentence…”

Symptoms of encephalopathy often begin rapidly and may be seen as confused behavior, decreased attention, and poor problem solving.  Neuropsychology services across the country are referred these patients in earnest in hope of tracking changes in their cognitive status and behavior.  The assessment process is lengthy.  At some point, patients are asked to make up a sentence containing a noun and a verb as part of the basic cognitive screening.  As you can see from the illustration below, this patient had difficulty with this task.  Almost any sentence will suffice but in this case the woman added the heart to represent the word ‘love’ and placed a smiley face at the bottom of her page to indicate her completion of the task.  Persons with encephalopathy often exhibit unusual limitations in their awareness of their condition and exhibit varying levels of confusion throughout the day.  Slowly these symptoms resolve – sometimes quite rapidly.  Just as rapidly, some patients are vulnerable to altered mental status at the first sign of infection.