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Mental Status Tests and Cognitive Tests

Table of Contents


Neurocognitive testing is used to find out about a person's thinking abilities, and to determine whether these problems are improving or getting worse.

Alternative Names

Mental status exam; Mental status tests

How the test is performed

A nurse, physician, physician assistant, or mental health worker will ask a number of questions. The test can be performed in the home, in an office, nursing home, or hospital. Occasionally, a psychologist with special training will do more extensive tests.

Most of the time, the provider will use neurocognitive tests that are also used by many other providers, which gives a score at the end. The most common test used is called the mini-mental state examination (MMSE) or Folstein test.

The following areas may be tested:


The health care provider will check the person's physical appearance, including:

  • Age
  • Dress
  • General level of comfort
  • Gender
  • Grooming
  • Height/weight


The health care provider will ask questions that may include:

  • The person's name, age, and job
  • The place where the person lives, type of building, city, and state, or the hospital or facility they are currently in
  • The time, date, and season


Attention span may be tested earlier, because this fundamental skill can influence the rest of the tests.

The provider will want to test:

  • The person's ability to complete a thought
  • The person's ability to think and problem solve
  • Whether the person is easily distracted

A person may be asked to do the following:

  • Start at a certain number, and then begin to subtract backwards by 7s.
  • Spell a word such as "WORLD" forward, and then backward.
  • Repeat up to 7 numbers foward, and up to 5 numbers in reverse order.
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Review Date: 03/09/2010
Reviewed By: Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (