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The accuracy of the MMSE in detecting cognitive impairment when administered by general practitioners: A prospective observational study

Patrizio Pezzotti1*, Silvia Scalmana1, Antonio Mastromattei1, Domenico Di Lallo1 and the "Progetto Alzheimer" Working Group2

Author Affiliations

1 Lazio Sanità – Agenzia di Sanità Pubblica della Regione Lazio, Rome, Italy

2 See "Acknowledgements"

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BMC Family Practice 2008, 9:29  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-9-29

Published: 13 May 2008



The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) has contributed to detecting cognitive impairment, yet few studies have evaluated its accuracy when used by general practitioners (GP) in an actual public-health setting.


We evaluated the accuracy of MMSE scores obtained by GPs by comparing them to scores obtained by Alzheimer's Evaluation Units (UVA).


The study was observational in design and involved 59 voluntary GPs who, after having undergone training, administered the MMSE to patients with symptoms of cognitive disturbances. Individuals who scored ≤ 24 (adjusted by age and educational level) were referred to Alzheimer's Evaluation Units (UVA) for diagnosis (including the MMSE). UVAs were unblinded to the MMSE score of the GP. To measure interrater agreement, the weighted Kappa statistic was calculated. To evaluate factors associated with the magnitude of the difference between paired scores, a linear regression model was applied. To quantify the accuracy in discriminating no cognitive impairment from any cognitive impairment and from Alzheimer's disease (AD), the ROC curves (AUC) were calculated.


For the 317 patients, the mean score obtained by GPs was significantly lower (15.8 vs. 17.4 for the UVAs; p < 0.01). However, overall concordance was good (Kappa = 0.86). Only the diagnosis made by the UVA was associated with the difference between paired scores: the adjusted mean difference was 3.1 for no cognitive impairment and 3.8 for mild cognitive impairment. The AUC of the scores for GPs was 0.80 (95%CI: 0.75–0.86) for discriminating between no impairment and any impairment and 0.89 (95%CI: 0.84–0.94) for distinguishing patients with AD, though the UVA scores discriminated better.


In a public-health setting involving patients with symptoms of cognitive disturbances, the MMSE used by the GPs was sufficiently accurate to detect patients with cognitive impairment, particularly those with dementia.