What Is a Mini-Mental Test?

A mini-mental state examination, or MMSE, is a brief test to detect cognitive impairment associated with medical conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, tumors or Parkinson’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The health care professional asks the patient a series of questions that require commonplace mental skills.

The questions in the MMSE test a patient’s orientation, attention span and memory. Judgment and language function are additional mental skills examined, and general appearance is noted from clothing, grooming, age and gender, as listed by MedlinePlus.

Orientation is tested with questions such as, “Where are you?” and “What day and time is it?” Attention span is judged by the ability to solve posed problems or to perform simple mathematical computations, as described by MedlinePlus. Subsequent recall of previously displayed objects is used to gauge memory, as are questions about past life events. Basic language skills are evaluated with reading tasks, object naming tasks and by the rapid listing of words beginning with a specified letter. Judgment is assessed through simple questions such as, “What do you do if you see flashing police lights behind your car?”

The MMSE is scored on a scale of 1 to 30. Mild dementia is indicated by a score of 20 to 24, moderate dementia by 13 to 20, and severe dementia by scores of 12 or less. Declining scores are used to gauge the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s, as noted by the Alzheimer’s Association.