Screening Tests Used for Alzheimer's and Other Dementias

Several brief and reliable tests are available to screen for Alzheimer's Disease or other dementias. While they are screening tests that shouldn't substitute for a full diagnostic evaluation, they may be done in the office, the waiting room, or even at home before your appointment. They are appropriate for identifying potential cognitive problems in people who may be worried about whether they have forgetfulness of normal aging or Alzheimer's Disease. They all have some differences and unique characteristics.

Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE)

Alzheimer's and Other Dementia Screenings
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The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) is widely used and reliable, available since 1975. Taking about 10 minutes to complete, the MMSE measures aspects of cognition that include orientation, word recall, attention and calculation, language abilities, and visual construction. Scores may need to be adjusted or interpreted differently to account for a person's age, educational level, and ethnicity/race.

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The Mini-Cog is a rapid Alzheimer's screening test that takes only 3-5 minutes to administer. It combines 3-item recall with the clock-drawing test to determine whether someone does or does not have dementia. It is extremely accurate as an assessment tool, but as with other screening tools, does not substitute for a thorough diagnostic work-up.

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Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA)

The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) is a relatively simple, brief test that helps health professionals determine quickly whether a person has abnormal cognitive function and may need a more thorough diagnostic work-up for Alzheimer's disease. Unlike the MMSE, the MoCA includes a clock-drawing test and a test of executive function known as Trails B. It may predict dementia in people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and it has been shown to identify cognitive problems in people with Parkinson's Disease.

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Saint Louis University Mental Status Exam (SLUMS)

The Saint Louis University Mental Status Exam (SLUMS) is an 11-item Alzheimer's screening test that is especially good at identifying people with more mild cognitive problems that don't yet rise to level of dementia. It was tested in over 700 veterans and includes items such as naming of animals (similar to a verbal fluency test) and recognition of geometric figures.

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AD8 Informant Interview

The AD-8 Informant Interview is an 8-item questionnaire that distinguishes between people who have dementia and people who don't. It is considered an informant based assessment because instead of the patient being questioned, the patient's informant (usually a spouse, child, or non-family caregiver) is asked to assess whether there have been changes in the past few years in certain areas of cognition and functioning. These include memory, orientation, executive function and interest in activities. The AD8 has a yes or no format and takes only 3 minutes or so to complete.

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The Clock-Drawing Test for Alzheimer's

The Clock-Drawing Test is a simple test that is often incorporated into other Alzheimer's screening tests. The person is asked to draw a clock, put in all the numbers, and set the hands at ten past eleven. Abnormal clock drawing tests suggest problems with memory, executive function or visuospatial abilities.

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The Brief Alzheimer's Screening Test

This short screening asks the test taker to repeat three words immediately after hearing them. Next, two tasks that distract from those three words are performed: a short version of the verbal fluency test where the person is asked to name as many animals as they can in 30 seconds and spelling "WORLD" backwards. Finally, the person is asked to remember and recite the three words from the beginning of the screening process.

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The 7 Minute Screen

This screening test has been shown to be effective in identifying mild cognitive impairment, a condition that sometimes escapes detection with other screening tests. The 7 Minute Screen involves enhanced cued recall, orientation questions, verbal fluency and the clock test.

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The SAGE At-Home Test

The SAGE at-home test is designed to be used at home and then brought to a physician for review after completion. It evaluates several different areas including memory, orientation, executive functioning, language and naming abilities and visual spatial abilities.

Remember that screening tests are just that: tools that help identify possible concerns and determine if more complete testing would be appropriate. If a screening test indicates a potential problem, you should be fully evaluated by a physician to determine if there's a reversible cause for your decline in cognition or to consider treatment options if dementia is diagnosed.

Edited by Esther Heerema, MSW,'s Alzheimer's Disease Expert

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