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What to Know About Dementia Screening and Assessment Tools

By Julie Hayes | 02/15/2022

A clock drawn by an older adult with numbers in the incorrect order. This suggests that the older adult may have dementia

Most diagnoses of dementia begin with a suspicion that something is wrong. Those closest to a loved one may notice increased forgetfulness or recent strange behavior and wonder if dementia could possibly be the cause.

For some, these suspicions lead them straight to a doctor. Others may feel more cautious. Fear of a loved one receiving a dementia diagnosis is a common source of hesitation. But there is often also a sense of uncertainty. Are my suspicions even valid to begin with? Isn’t being forgetful just a part of aging? Can anyone even tell the difference between being a bit scatterbrained and having early-stage dementia?

If you’re a family member, friend or caregiver who suspects a loved one might have dementia, it’s important to know about cognitive screening and assessment tools. Since there is no one biological marker or blood test to pinpoint dementia, cognitive tests help doctors evaluate the state of your loved one’s memory, recall, language recognition and ability to follow instructions. If you plan to bring your loved one to a doctor, a combination of tests may be used to screen your loved one for dementia. And, if you are hesitant to consult a doctor just yet, many of these tests include questions that you can try asking your loved one yourself to help you confirm your suspicions. 

However, it’s important to remember that dementia can be difficult to diagnosis, and may require several tests and a thorough assessment by a doctor or specialist to confirm the diagnosis. Going to a doctor is the surest way to find the answers you need.

Here are some dementia screening and assessment tools to be aware of:

1. Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE)

This brief, 5 to 10 minute test, is one of the most commonly used to assess for dementia. The MMSE is very simple to administer, and assesses multiple aspects of your loved one’s cognitive ability from following instructions to doing simple calculations. The MMSE has also been officially translated into over 70 foreign languages, making it accessible to loved ones of various backgrounds who may be more capable of answering questions in their native language.

2. Mini-Cog

This 3-minute test evaluates a loved one’s recall and also uses a common dementia assessment tool known as the ‘clock drawing test.’ The person administering the test will ask your loved one to draw a clock and place the hands at a certain time. Drawing the circle and placing the numbers correctly tests your loved one’s ability to remember number order and the correct spacing of numbers on a clockface. Placing the clock hands at a certain time tests their memory and ability to follow verbal directions.

3. Informant Questionnaire on Cognitive Decline in the Elderly (IQCODE)

This test focuses on the observations of family and friends close to a loved one suspected of having dementia, known by clinicians as “informants.” Informants are asked to think back to their loved one’s condition 10 years ago and compare it to their condition now. With each question, the informant can share how much they think their loved one has improved or worsened at certain skills, such as remembering important occasions or how to use items around the house. 

4. General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition (GPCOG)

The GPCOG test combines the clock drawing test of the Mini-Cog test and informant interview of the IQCODE test to study both a loved one’s cognitive ability and the perceptions of those close to them. 

Other commonly used tests include the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) and the Addenbrooke’s Cognitive Examination-Revised (ACE-R).

It’s an important to remember that an early diagnosis of dementia has many benefits for both individuals with dementia and their loved ones. An early diagnosis can help family members and caregivers plan for the future and learn about resources in their area as soon as possible. It also helps individuals with dementia receive beneficial treatments and express their care preferences while they are still able to. If you suspect a loved one has dementia, having them screened as soon as possible won’t take away the difficult reality of a dementia diagnosis, but it will help you be better prepared for the long journey ahead. 

This article was written as a part of the Expansion of Dementia-Capable Communities within Urban and Rural Settings in Ohio using Evidence-Based and Informed Programming project, funded by the Administration for Community Living, Alzheimer’s Disease Program’s Initiative (#90ADPI0052-01-00). Learn more here.    

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