European Journal of Ageing

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 265-274

Using the Folstein Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE) to explore methodological issues in cognitive aging research

  • Todd MonroeAffiliated withJohn A. Hartford Foundation & Atlantic Philanthropies Claire M. Fagin Fellow, Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Email author 
  • , Michael CarterAffiliated withThe University of Tennessee Health Science Center Email author 

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Cognitive scales are used frequently in geriatric research and practice. These instruments are constructed with underlying assumptions that are a part of their validation process. A common measurement scale used in older adults is the Folstein Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE). The MMSE was designed to screen for cognitive impairment and is used often in geriatric research. This paper has three aims. Aim one was to explore four potential threats to validity in the use of the MMSE: (1) administering the exam without meeting the underlying assumptions, (2) not reporting that the underlying assumptions were assessed prior to test administration, (3) use of variable and inconsistent cut-off scores for the determination of presence of cognitive impairment, and (4) failure to adjust the scores based on the demographic characteristics of the tested subject. Aim two was to conduct a literature search to determine if the assumptions of (1) education level assessment, (2) sensory assessment, and (3) language fluency were being met and clearly reported in published research using the MMSE. Aim three was to provide recommendations to minimalize threats to validity in research studies that use cognitive scales, such as the MMSE. We found inconsistencies in published work in reporting whether or not subjects meet the assumptions that underlie a reliable and valid MMSE score. These inconsistencies can pose threats to the reliability of exam results. Fourteen of the 50 studies reviewed reported inclusion of all three of these assumptions. Inconsistencies in reporting the inclusion of the underlying assumptions for a reliable score could mean that subjects were not appropriate to be tested by use of the MMSE or that an appropriate test administration of the MMSE was not clearly reported. Thus, the research literature could have threats to both validity and reliability based on misuse of or improper reported use of the MMSE. Six recommendations are provided to minimalize these threats in future research.


Aging Memory Cognitive impairment Research methods Research limitations MMSE