The Mini Mental Status Exam: A Dementia Screening Tool

A common dementia screening test is the Mini Mental Status Exam

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.


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.

Complicating factors include:

  • Physical injuries
  • Physical conditions like sleep apnea, which can cause memory or other cognitive problems
  • Conditions like depression
  • Trouble with math, especially for those with limited education
  • Trouble with language, especially for non-native English speakers, those who don’t speak any English, and people with limited education
  • Having a form of dementia that doesn’t significantly affect memory, like Lewy Body 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.


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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: The Age Page


  • Reply June 28, 2021

    Amy-Louise Webber

    If a person has repeatedly taken the test in the same conditions and the total score is the same (25+) but it is taking progressively longer for them to complete each time, exceeding 10 minutes, can this also be indicative of dementia?

  • Reply June 28, 2021

    Mary Sabillena

    There should be a printable on this

    • Reply June 28, 2021


      The MMSE is a screening test that’s typically administered in a doctor’s office so they’re not available for people to take at home.

      The Sage Test can be taken at home, but a doctor is needed to evaluate whether there’s a cognitive issue or not. More info here – SAGE Test: 15 Minute At-Home Test for Alzheimer’s

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