Mental status tests are
done to test an individual’s cognitive function. The tests can be given by a
number of different healthcare providers, including physicians, nurse
practitioners, physician assistants, and nurses. A psychologist is required to
conduct more complex testing when there are questions about specific
Mental status tests will examine your appearance, orientation,
attention span, memory, language skills, and judgment skills. Mental status
testing may also be referred to as mental status examination or neurocognitive
The main type of mental status test used is the mini-mental state
examination (MMSE), also known as the Folstein Mini Mental State Exam. In this
test, the examiner will observe your appearance, orientation, attention span,
memory, language skills, and judgment skills.
Your examiner will look to see if you look your age. They’ll also
look for any physical features that are associated with certain conditions,
such as the almond-shaped eyes associated with Down syndrome. Your examiner
will look to see if you’re well-groomed. They’ll look to see if you’re dressed
appropriately for the situation and the weather.
Your examiner will look for cues to see how comfortable you are
in social situations. They’ll observe your body language. Your examiner will
look for movements that are characteristic of certain conditions, such as
excessive movement or muscle contractions. They’ll observe how you make eye
contact, for instance they will notice whether you stare intensely or avoid eye
Your orientation to time, place, and person will be tested.
Abnormal orientation may be indicative of alcohol use, use of certain drugs,
head trauma, nutritional deficiencies, or neurocognitive impairment.
To test your orientation, your examiner will ask you questions. They
may ask you your name and age. You’ll also be asked about your job, as well as
where you live. You may also be asked where you are, what today’s date is, and
what the current season is.
Your attention span will be tested so your examiner can determine
if you’re able to finish your thoughts, if you’re able to solve problems, and
if you’re easily distracted. An abnormal attention span can indicate attention
deficit disorder (ADD), as well as a wide range of other difficulties.
Your examiner may ask you to count backward from a certain number
or spell a short word both forward and backward. You may also be asked to
follow spoken instructions.
Both your recent and long-term memory will be tested. A loss of
recent memory usually indicates a medical problem, whereas a loss of long-term
memory can indicate other problems. Your examiner will ask you about current
events such as who the president is. They may also ask you about recent events
in your life such as a recent trip.
To test your memory, your examiner will say three words to you.
You’ll be asked to repeat these words after a few minutes. Your examiner will
also test your long-term memory by asking you questions about your childhood
The examiner will test to see how you use language. For instance,
do you use words appropriately, correctly name objects, have “word finding”
difficulties or other difficulties with the common use of language. If the
person being tested has never been able to read or write, it’s important to let
the examiner know that. Abnormal language results may indicate a wide range of
mental health issues.
For language testing, you may be asked to write a complete
sentence or follow a written direction. Your examiner will also ask you to name
certain common items in the room, such as a pen or table. They may also ask you
to name as many words as you can that start with a certain letter or fit into a
specific category, such as types of food or types of animals.
Judgment testing assesses your ability to solve problems and your
ability to make acceptable decisions. Abnormal judgment results may indicate
schizophrenia, intellectual disability, or neurocognitive impairment.
You may be asked to draw a clock that indicates a certain time.
You may also be asked what you would do in several different situations that
you might encounter in daily life. For example, you may be asked what you would
do if you were in a store and wanted to get something, or what you would do if
you found somebody’s wallet on the ground.
Educational level and fluency in English can influence your score
on the MMSE. It’s important to let the examiner know if English isn’t your
primary language. Also, give your examiner a description of your educational
history, for example, whether you graduated from college or if you’re a high
Your healthcare provider will discuss your results with you
and/or your spouse or family member. If you were given the test after an
injury, your health care provider will probably repeat the test later to gauge