Dementia screening tool detects early cognitive problems

February 2016

General Practitioners

Country of origin: USA

A screening tool for dementia developed by Saint Louis University geriatricians appears to work better in identifying mild cognitive problems in the elderly than the commonly used Mini Mental Status Examination, according to a recent study.

Doctors routinely administer the Mini Mental Status Examination (MMSE) to patients who they believe may have Alzheimer's disease. Both the MMSE and SLU's screening tool - the Saint Louis University Mental Status Examination (SLUMS) - indicate to doctors when they should pursue further testing in diagnosing dementia.

"This early detection of mild neurocognitive disorder by the SLUMS offers the opportunity for the clinicians to begin early treatment as it becomes available," says Syed Tariq, MD, lead author and associate professor of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University.

John Morley, MD, director of the division of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University, created the SLUMS to screen more educated patients and to detect early cognitive problems.

"There are potential treatments available and they slow down the progression of the disease," says Morley, who is a coinvestigator. "The earlier you treat, the better people seem to do. But families go through denial and sometimes miss diagnosing dementia until its symptoms are no longer mild."

The researchers found the new screening tool developed by SLU detects early cognitive problems missed by the MMSE.

It takes a clinician about seven minutes to administer the SLUMS, which supplements the Mini Mental Status Examination by asking patients to perform tasks such as doing simple math computations, naming animals, recalling facts and drawing the hands on a clock.

"SLUMS has the advantage in that it can help the clinician identify patients with mild neurocognitive disorder on the initial visit compared to MMSE, which requires a follow up screening," Tariq says.

SLUMS, which is free and currently used at many Veterans Administration hospitals, is available online.

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