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What is a Cognitive Impairment Test?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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A cognitive impairment test is a screening to check a patient for signs of cognitive impairments like memory loss, difficulty with logic and reasoning, and poor comprehension. Such tests can be used in the assessment of patients with brain injuries or progressive neurological diseases, and in the screening of patients experiencing cognitive changes of concern. These tests can also be useful for establishing a baseline reference in the ongoing evaluation and monitoring of a patient with cognitive impairments.

The length of a cognitive impairment test varies. Generally, the patient is asked a series of questions and may be asked to perform tasks requiring the patient to remember things, repeat statements, and identify material visually by doing things like looking at flashcards. Longer tests are more comprehensive and provide an in-depth evaluation to the clinician, while shorter tests can be useful for a quick screening to get a general idea of a patient's level of cognitive function.

Caregivers can use such tests in hospitals and clinics and people like emergency services personnel may have simplified versions of cognitive impairment tests to use while assessing people on scene at accidents. These tests can also be used to see if a patient's reasoning and cognitive abilities are temporarily impaired by drugs or alcohol, a concern among law enforcement officers in particular. People concerned about their brain function can also use self-assessment tests provided online and in publications generated by health organizations to assess their own cognitive abilities.

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Doctors may administer a cognitive impairment test by default to all older patients to check for signs of changes, since older people are at increased risk of developing cognitive impairments. In younger patients, such testing is used when a patient is believed to have a cognitive problem, or when a patient is clearly at risk as a result of a brain injury or chronic disease. Screening can be used to identify impairments early, allowing care providers to adjust the course of treatment to reflect the patient's level of impairment.

Completing a cognitive impairment test can sometimes be frustrating for a patient, especially in the case of a long screening. People may be aware that their test results are poor as they struggle with tasks on the test, and this can make them nervous, leading to a decrease in cognitive ability. Being aware of the patient's mental state is important while administering such tests and if a patient appears upset or distressed, the cognitive impairment test should be stopped and resumed at a later time.

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