A Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) is a set of 30 questions that doctors and other healthcare professionals commonly use to check for cognitive impairment (problems with thinking, communication, understanding and memory).
Your doctor might perform the MMSE if there is a reason to suspect you may be confused, such as after a head injury or during a sudden episode of illness such as an infection. It is also sometimes used as part of the process for determining if someone has dementia.
What abilities does the MMSE check?
The MMSE can be used to assess several mental abilities, including:
- short and long-term memory
- attention span
- language and communication skills
- ability to plan
- ability to understand instructions
What does the MMSE involve?
The MMSE test consists of a series of tasks such as:
- memorising a short list of objects and then repeating the list back
- writing a short sentence that is grammatically correct, such as "The dog sat on the floor"
- correctly identifying the current day of the week, followed by the date, the month, the season and the year
The test takes about 5 to 10 minutes. The questions are usually the same (or very similar) regardless of who conducts the test.
How is the MMSE scored?
The maximum score for the MMSE is 30. A score of 25 or higher is classed as normal. If the score is below 25, the result is usually considered to be abnormal (indicating possible cognitive impairment). Impairment may be classified as follows:
- mild — MMSE score of between 21 and 24
- moderate — MMSE score of between 10 and 20
- severe — MMSE score of less than 10
Your doctor or healthcare professional will allow for limitations in interpreting MMSE scores. For example, people who are highly educated tend to do better than those who aren’t, particularly for tasks that involve writing or counting. This can cause a misleading result. Sometimes, cultural differences affect the score.
Why might I be asked to repeat the test?
The MMSE may be repeated to check for changes in cognition over time. A deterioration in an MMSE score might prompt your doctor or healthcare provider to ask more questions or arrange other tests.
If you are feeling anxious about the MMSE
Despite its name, the MMSE is straightforward. It is important to know:
- you do not need to ‘prepare’ or ‘study’ for the test
- you cannot ‘pass’ or ‘fail’
- it is not an IQ or intelligence test
- in isolation, it will not diagnose you with any disease, such as dementia
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Last reviewed: November 2019