This 10-Minute Test Could Help You Spot Alzheimer's Early, Experts Say

A simple test can help you find the answers you need.

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most prevalent form of dementia, affecting roughly 6.5 million Americans. As you age, you may begin to wonder whether subtle signs of forgetfulness are due to normal, age-related changes, or a warning of something more serious. Experts say that while a dementia diagnosis involves many forms of evaluation, there's also a simple, 10-minute test that's considered standard practice in assessing one's likelihood of Alzheimer's. Read on to learn which simple testing tool may help you spot Alzheimer's disease and reach a diagnosis faster if you're experiencing cognitive changes.

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Here's how Alzheimer's disease is typically diagnosed.

brain scan photos with doctor looking at them

Most often, when Alzheimer's disease is suspected, a neurologist or geriatrician will implement a series of physical tests and cognitive screenings to determine whether you are exhibiting impaired memory or cognitive skills, changes in personality or behaviors, or other concerning symptoms, and how these changes are affecting your daily life. They will likely begin by reviewing your symptoms, medications, medical history, and family history. They may also speak with someone close to you for an objective account of your symptoms.

"Doctors may order additional laboratory tests, brain-imaging tests or send you for detailed memory testing. These tests can provide doctors with useful information for diagnosis, including ruling out other conditions that cause similar symptoms," explains the Mayo Clinic.

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Your symptoms may have a treatable cause other than Alzheimer's.

doctor speaking to patient with dementia

Your doctor may wish to rule out several conditions before diagnosing you with Alzheimer's disease. Thyroid disorders, vitamin B-12 deficiencies, brain tumors, strokes, and other forms of dementia can all present with similar symptoms to AD. "If another treatable condition is causing the memory problems, health care providers can start treatments," notes the Mayo Clinic.

Though it may feel frightening to seek medical evaluation regarding your symptoms, there are also significant benefits to early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Though there is no cure for Alzheimer's, doctors can provide drug- and non-drug interventions which may help manage your symptoms and slow their progression.

This 10-minute test may help you spot Alzheimer's disease.

senior woman taking cognitive test for dementia
Gligatron / Shutterstock

One test that may help lead to diagnosis is the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE). This is a quick, 10-minute test of mental status that's used as part of a broader diagnostic workup by a doctor. Commonly used to identify cognitive impairment, the MMSE (or MMSE2, updated in 2010 from the original version created in the 1970s) is considered the industry standard in cognitive testing for Alzheimer's.

MMSE tests consist of simple tasks and mental exercises that probe the patient's sense of orientation to time and place, problem-solving abilities, short-term memory, language, comprehension, and motor skills. For example, the test-taker is asked to recite a series of words, copy a simple geometric drawing, spell a word backwards, and count backward by sevens.

The test has a maximum score of 30 points. Lower scores indicate a higher likelihood of Alzheimer's disease, while higher scores suggest healthy cognition. Particular score cutoffs are sometimes debated among medical professionals, and may be interpreted in the context of your known symptoms. Speak with your doctor if you have specific questions about how to interpret your score.

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Look out for these early symptoms of AD.

A nurse helps a senior woman around her home

While the MMSE tests may provide a guidepost for assessing cognitive decline, it's also important to look out for the early signs of Alzheimer's in your daily life. These may include memory impairment, difficulty performing complex tasks, lack of concentration, impaired problem solving abilities, confusion, visuospatial difficulties, language problems, poor decision making or judgment, social withdrawal, and mood changes.

The more these symptoms interrupt your everyday life and ability to function independently, the more likely you are to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or a related form of dementia. Speak with your doctor if you may be exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's, or if you are interested in undergoing MMSE testing.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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