There’s a commonly used dementia test

If you’re concerned because you think your older adult might be showing signs of dementia, the first step is to visit their primary doctor for a full check-up.

If there aren’t any obvious causes of dementia-like symptoms, like a urinary tract infection or other treatable health condition, many doctors use a test called the Mini Mental Status Exam (MMSE) to screen for possible cognitive issues.

We explain how the MMSE works, why it can’t be used alone for a dementia diagnosis, and what to watch out for at memory test events.

How the Mini Mental Status Exam works

The MMSE is commonly used because it only takes 5 – 10 minutes and doctors or nurses don’t need any equipment or special training.

The test has 30 questions that are each worth 1 point. These questions test memory, orientation, and math skills.

The MMSE includes questions that measure:

  • Sense of date and time
  • Sense of location
  • Ability to remember a short list of common objects and later, repeat it back
  • Attention and ability to do basic math, like counting backward from 100 by increments of 7
  • Ability to name a couple of common objects
  • Complex cognitive function, like asking someone to draw a clock

The grading scale is:

  • 25 or more points = no problem
  • 21-24 points = mild cognitive impairment
  • 10-20 points = moderate cognitive impairment
  • 0-9 points = severe cognitive impairment

If someone gets a score in the 0 to 20 range, it can indicate cognitive issues. But it doesn’t mean that they have dementia.

What it does mean is that more physical and cognitive testing should be done to better understand what’s causing the cognitive issues.

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