Practical Senior Care Tips

Mini Mental Status Exam: a demential screening tool 

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

There is  tool that is used in the very preliminary phases of diagnosis for dementia.

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.

The MMSE alone can’t be used for a dementia diagnosis

No matter what they score on the Mini Mental Status Exam, don’t consider those results to be the final answer.

Many factors can influence someone’s MMSE score, both positively and negatively. This is only one of many dementia diagnosis tools.

The MMSE is a useful screening tool, but can’t be used to diagnose dementia because there are many factors that could affect the test results such as physical injuries, sleep apnea, depression, trouble with math-especially for those with limited education, challenges with language-especially for non-native English speaking people or those who already have a form of dementia.

Experts warn against one-time memory test events

You may see memory screenings offered at shopping malls or health fairs. Experts recommend avoiding those tests, even if they use the MMSE. Taking a quick test like these without a full medical evaluation isn’t an effective dementia screening and is more likely to cause unnecessary fear and worry. Contact your primary physician or health care community for more information.