Common Dementia Test Questions

Nate Birt

Written by Nate Birt on Thu Nov 17 2022.

Common Dementia Test Questions

As your loved one grows older, it’s natural for you to care about their physical and mental well-being. If a parent, a relative, or a friend has trouble remembering recent events or struggles with basic math problems, you might wonder what is causing it. You might also be curious about the common questions doctors will ask to determine if they have dementia.

One of the most popular tests is the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). Let’s take a closer look at this test, the questions it includes, and the importance of taking this test to help you best care for your loved one.

How do I determine if my loved one has dementia? 

If you suspect your loved one has dementia, the first thing to do is schedule an appointment with a trusted doctor. Your loved one might have a primary care doctor, which could be the first step. Their doctor may recommend seeing someone who specializes in care for people with dementia. 

It’s important to be sensitive about the topic when discussing any doctor’s visits or dementia tests with your loved one. Your goal as a caregiver is to provide the best possible care while also honoring their feelings, values, and sense of self. Explain your concern to them and that the appointment will help you both understand their needs. Also point out that if a dementia test is given, it’s just a snapshot of information and not a dementia diagnosis. It will also let your loved one live life on their terms in a safe and comfortable environment. 

What is the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE)? 

During a visit with your loved one’s doctor, you may hear about the Mini-Mental State Examination, also known as the MMSE. This involves a series of common questions and is designed to help medical professionals learn whether they might need more help. It’s a list of questions about your loved one’s everyday life.

In some cases, families seek a dementia test for their loved one only to discover they are OK. A score between 24 and 30 shows your loved one can think clearly and respond in a typical way to questions. A score between 18 and 23 may lead a doctor to recommend additional tests. Anything below 17 is an indication of cognitive impairment and that your loved one is having difficulties responding to questions about their daily life.

What kinds of questions does the MMSE include? 

If you are curious, a sample MMSE is available online. Here are some common questions that your loved one might be asked:

  • Can you name these objects as I point to them?

  • Where are we? 

  • Repeat this phrase. (Your doctor will fill in the blank with a short phrase)

  • Follow these instructions. (For example, the doctor might ask your loved one to fold a sheet of paper and place it on the ground)

  • Can you write down a short sentence and show it to me?

  • Count backward from this number.

The purpose of these questions is to help your loved one use their memory and experiences to talk about everyday topics. People with dementia tend to have a more difficult time with these types of activities. 

Do low test scores mean my loved one has dementia?

Keep in mind that if your loved one struggles to answer the questions or gets a low score, it is not a diagnosis of dementia. Instead, it might simply mean additional tests are a good idea. This will help you and your loved one’s doctor provide the care they need.

Encourage your loved one and remind them they aren’t being graded or judged. Express your appreciation for their willingness to take the test. Let them know it makes you feel happy and grateful to have another piece of information that helps you be an excellent caregiver.

What should I do once we receive the test results? 

A qualified doctor can help you figure out what to do after your loved one has taken the dementia test. For example, the doctor might not see the need for additional visits or tests as the results could indicate your loved one is doing well.

In other cases, your loved one’s doctor might recommend additional tests to understand their physical and mental well-being better. Again, this is not a dementia diagnosis. It just shows that more information is needed for the doctor to provide precise recommendations that can help them manage daily life. This also gives you more tools to work with as a caregiver.

Should I rely on other resources in addition to the MMSE?  

Yes, it is important to remember the MMSE should not be the sole indicator by which to make medical decisions for your loved one. Instead, researchers recommend considering multiple sources of information to understand the situation and needs. Begin with a visit to your loved one’s doctor, who will decide whether the MMSE is suitable for your loved one. Never administer the MMSE yourself. 

If an MMSE test is given, work with the doctor to decide on next steps. You might find it helpful to read or research how doctors typically diagnose and treat dementia. It’s important to consult reputable sources, as not all online information is accurate. You should also consider surrounding yourself with medical experts in your loved one’s community who can guide you with trusted advice.

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Nate Birt
Nate Birt

Nate Birt is a healthcare writer with a journalism degree from University of Missouri. He lives with his wife and their four children on a small farm in Missouri.