A simple tool for assessing cognitive function in older adults compares well with and may be easier to use than other such available instruments, including the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE).

The brief “Sweet 16” includes 16 measurements for testing a person’s temporal/spatial orientation, registration, sustained attention, and short-term memory. Tamara Fong, MD, PhD, and codevelopers contend that the Sweet 16 has important advantages over other brief instruments, including:

  • Administration time of just two to three minutes
  • Superior validation over the brief Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) or the Abbreviated Mental Test
  • Ability to accurately characterize mental status without being influenced by the patient’s education level or other socio­demographic factors
  • No need for pen, paper, special forms, or other props required by other cognitive-assessment tools
  • Open-access status for nonprofit organizations, as opposed to copyright-restricted MMSE and MMSE-2.

The research team developed and tested the Sweet 16 in 774 subjects. The new tool demonstrated better sensitivity and specificity than the MMSE against the Informant Questionnaire on Cognitive Decline in the Elderly and clinical diagnosis. In a statement describing her team’s results, which were published online ahead of print in Archives of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fong pointed out that the Sweet 16 could be utilized in inpatient, outpatient, home, and long-term-care settings.

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Cognitive decline was also the subject of several other recent studies, including a 32-year project indicating that cholesterol level in midlife may not be linked to later development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), contrary to earlier findings; an analysis linking heavy smoking in midlife with a 157% increase in AD and a 172% hike in vascular-dementia risk; and a study showing that supplements of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid did not reduce the rate of cognitive and functional decline in people with mild to moderate AD.