Senior Health: Diagnosing Cognitive Impairment

Jun 5th, 2011 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Lifestyle, Health & Fitness

Diagnosing cognitive impairment is an issue of concern to many seniors, their elderly parents and their younger children.  You may be worried about Grandma’s deteriorating mental capacity, or the weird things Dad has been doing lately, or whether or not Alzheimer’s (which may run in your family) is going to be an issue for you.  There are many tests that need to be utililzed by professionals in each of these circumstances.  One of those is the MMSE, about which a lot of us seniors have some questions.

The MMSE (Mini Mental State Examination) is a standardized test given by a health or mental health professional trained in its use.  It is highly useful in detecting general cognitive impairment, and depending upon the score, can identify severe, moderate, mild or no cognitive problems.  Best of all, it’s easy to administer and can be done in about 10-15 minutes.

The MMSE does not tell the professional what the cognitive problem is (diagnosis); rather it identifies that there is cognitive impairment, and to what degree it exists.

Dementia itself is a decline in several cognitive areas.  Over 75 health issues can be responsible for dementia.  There are 30 statements/questions on the MMSE, developed over 30 years ago, and this screening device cannot be used to diagnose dementia; it’s use is in screening for possibilities and changes in cognitive functioning.

This editor is a retired mental health professional.  In her opinion, the value of the MMSE is the ability to follow a patient over time, to identify changes in cognition that might suggest the need for further evaluation.  Since the MMSE is considered a screening device, other more detailed and involved testing is necessary in order to reach a diagnosis and create a treatment plan for identified mental problems.

Further information about the MMSE can be found here.



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  1. Great information, I guess it would be a good start to have MMSE test and to go further test if there are more symptoms showing or weird things.

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