When Tests for Mild Cognitive Impairment Get It Wrong

If you think you may have mild cognitive impairment, but tests show otherwise, you may want to ask for further screening.

That's because standard techniques for detecting the condition sometimes falsely classify individuals who do have mild cognitive impairment as being cognitively normal, according to the finding of a 2016 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Mild cognitive impairment is forgetfulness that is worse than normal for one’s age but is not associated with certain problems common in dementia.

The 520 study participants, who were an average age of 74, had been identified as unimpaired using typical criteria: subjective cognitive complaints, cognitive screening measures, clinical judgment, and a single cognitive test, the Mini-Mental State Examination. The 30-point questionnaire examines functions such as attention and calculation, recall, language, ability to follow simple commands, and orientation.

Study participants took additional cognitive tests that assessed their memory, language, and so-called processing speed and executive function (how quickly they could do simple tasks and their mental skills for getting things done), the results of which investigators subjected to additional criteria for identifying mild cognitive impairment.

Participants also underwent lumbar puncture for cerebral spinal fluid, which researchers examined for biomarkers of cognitive problems. In addition, investigators followed participants’ rate of cognitive decline during the subsequent two years.

Based on the collected information, investigators reclassified as having mild cognitive impairment about 7 percent of participants who previously had been identified as cognitively normal.

Bottom line

Keep these findings in mind if you still are worried about mild cognitive impairment after receiving professional reassurance that all is well. You may want to request further screening.

Learn more about testing for mild cognitive impairment.

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HealthAfter50 was published by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, providing up-to-date, evidence-based research and expert advice on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of health conditions affecting adults in middle age and beyond. It was previously part of Remedy Health Media's network of digital and print publications, which also include HealthCentral; HIV/AIDS resources The Body and The Body Pro; the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; and the Berkeley Wellness website. All content from HA50 merged into Healthcentral.com in 2018.