What kind of memory loss test should I use? My mom is...

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 19, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

What kind of memory loss test should I use? My mom is forgetful at times and I'm wondering which memory loss test we should trust to find out how serious her memory lapses are. Is there a memory loss test that's the best one to use?

Expert Answers

Dennis Fortier, MA, MBA, is the president and CEO of Medical Care Corporation, a neuroinformatics company that develops assessment technologies, enabling physicians to objectively evaluate memory and other cognitive functions in their patients. Fortier also authors the widely followed Brain Today blog, writing about advances in brain health, memory loss, and Alzheimer's disease.

The most important thing to understand is that a memory loss test, regardless of which one you choose, is not a replacement for a medical evaluation by a physician. Many conditions can impair memory, including some very common and easy to diagnose problems like depression and thyroid disorders. These can be effectively identified and treated by a physician who may never use a memory test in the process.

Having said that, it sounds like you are wondering if there is a real memory problem with your mother, one caused by an underlying medical condition, or if she is merely showing signs of her age. This is a difficult distinction to make, even for a physician. In fact, the most common tests used by physicians to assess memory are the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) and the clock drawing test, neither of which are sensitive enough to detect the kind of subtle problem you are describing with your mother.

According to the scientific literature, the most accurate test for discriminating normal aging from subtle memory loss caused by a medical condition is the MCI Screen. (Author disclosure: I work for the company that developed the MCI Screen and distributes it to physicians). I am also aware of a free memory test that will soon be available to the public through the Orange County Vital Aging Program at www.OCvitalaging.org. Based on the types of information your mother forgets during the "lapses" you described, the memory test in that program will help you understand if there is a likely medical problem causing the memory loss.