Assessing cognition in older people: a practical toolkit for health professionals

Measuring cognitive function

It can be difficult for health professionals to accurately assess cognitive function in older people. Yet this is one of the most important assessments clinicians make, particularly those working in old age psychiatry and geriatric medicine. It is essential to detecting and diagnosing dementia.

Cognitive assessments cover a very broad range of activities. They can take place:

  • in a number of settings – primary care, specialist memory clinics, acute care and care homes
  • for a variety of purposes – screening, diagnosing, staging and measuring change
  • over a number of domains – memory, language, visuospatial ability and executive function.

There are a number of assessment scales available but none of them cover this broad range of use. In addition, some scales have a cost attached to them which hinders their use in clinical practice. This includes the widely used Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE).

The cognitive assessment toolkit

Alzheimer's Society have produced a toolkit – developed by an expert writing group and supported by Department of Health. Its aim is to help health professionals determine the most appropriate cognitive assessment tool for use with patients in their setting.

Overall the intention is that it will support clinicians by improving the assessment of cognition in a wide variety of settings.

The toolkit is intended as a guide to assessment of cognitive function, not diagnosis.