What does your MMSE score mean?

Memory test

When a loved one develops dementia, you may feel worried and overwhelmed about the situation. Dementia is a decline in mental ability that is severe enough to affect daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is a specific form of dementia. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s get worse over time. Alzheimer’s disease makes up 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases.

Although it’s common to have some memory loss as we get older, Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. Plus, not everyone who gets Alzheimer’s is older -- in fact, there are about 200,000 Americans with Alzheimer’s who are 65 or younger.

Memory loss is the key symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. With Alzheimer’s, memory loss gets worse over time. Eventually, the person who has it is unable to function in daily life.

When a health care provider suspects that someone may have memory loss, he or she may give a test called the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). This test is used around the world and is easy to administer During the test, a health care professional will ask the patient questions that relate to memory, concentration and the ability to follow instructions.

The answers are scored, and that score suggests the level of dementia the patient may have. Scores on the higher end indicate a higher cognitive function, while lower scores signal more severe cases of dementia. It’s common for someone with Alzheimer’s disease to have a score that goes down two to four points each year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The MMSE has a maximum score of 30 points. The scores are generally grouped as follows:

Not all health care professionals agree on the cut-offs for each stage of dementia. For example, some health care providers will consider a score of 26 or 27 to be mild dementia. This is why results from a patient’s other health exams are also important to consider.

The MMSE is not the only test used to determine if someone has dementia. In fact, health care providers typically will look at a patient’s medical history, physical exam results, and sometimes neurological test results, including brain scans. All of these steps, along with the results of a mental status test like the the MMSE, help a provider determine if a person has dementia.

If someone you care for is taking the MMSE, there’s no need to worry about the test itself. You can’t pass or fail it, and you can’t study for it. It’s also not an intelligence test. Your loved one just needs to answer the questions as best as possible. The test should not be used by itself to determine if someone has dementia.

If you have a loved one who is diagnosed with dementia, he or she may be able to continue living at home at first. With the use of home health care, companion care services, and adult day care, your loved one can get the help they need with day-to-day activities. As dementia or Alzheimer’s becomes more severe, however, you will likely need more hands-on, round-the-clock help. Care options in this case could include:

Although it can be hard to seek care for a loved one with dementia, it’s important to reach out for help. Learn about your options early on so you are better prepared when your loved one needs more hands-on care.

Individual scores:

Mini-Mental State Examination Score of 25-30 points

25 26 27 28 29 30

Mini-Mental State Examination Score of 21-24 points

21 22 23 24

Mini-Mental State Examination Score of 10-20 points

10 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Mini-Mental State Examination Score of 9 points or lower