Chronic Infection Linked to Lower Cognitive Function

Chronic infection—already known to be associated with heart disease—has been linked to cognitive impairment, according to a recent study by Dr. Mira Katan and colleagues from the department of neurology at Columbia University.  The researchers tested 1,625 subjects, with an average age of 69, using the Mini-mental State Examination (MMSE); they also tested each member of the group for their infectious burden (IB), that is, their degree of exposure to five common viruses and bacteria.  The researchers conclude that “A measure of IB associated with stroke risk and atherosclerosis was independently associated with cognitive performance in this multiethnic cohort. Past infections may contribute to cognitive impairment” (Neurology, March 26, 2013).

The link between IB and cognitive impairment was stronger among women, those with lower levels of education, those without health insurance or Medicare, and those who did not exercise.  The reasons for the association are less clear, according the Dr. Katan.  “Another mechanism might be that these pathogens are neurotoxic, directly affecting the nerves,” she said in March 29 New York Times interview.  “We’ve found a common pattern but we cannot prove causality.”

Although further study is needed, the results could lead to identifying individuals who are at risk of cognitive impairment—and taking action to lower that risk.

The MMSE®/MMSE®-2™ Cognitive Impairment Screener Goes Mobile in New App

One of the world’s most popular and trusted assessments of cognitive impairment is now available as a convenient app for smartphones and tablets. Like the paper-and-pencil version, the app can be used to screen for cognitive impairment, to select patients for clinical trials research in dementia treatment, or to track patients’ progress over time.

The MMSE/MMSE-2 app includes a brief instructional video that walks users through the features of the app. In addition to the original MMSE, both standard and brief versions of the MMSE-2 are available, enabling health care providers to choose the version that will suit each client. Scoring is done automatically, and patient records can be uploaded directly to an electronic medical records (EMR) system or e-mailed to appropriate personnel. Equivalent, alternate forms of the MMSE-2 decrease the possibility of practice effects that can occur over serial examinations. The app also includes norms for the MMSE and the MMSE-2, by age and education level.

The MMSE/MMSE-2 app is available to qualified health care professionals from the Apple® App StoreSM (for the iPhone® or iPad®) and from Google Play (for Android™ devices). The app is free—users pay only for administrations, which start at $1.25 each.


Meet the MMSE & MMSE-2 Authors: Marshal F. Folstein, MD & Susan E. Folstein, MD

What made you decide initially to develop the Mini-Mental® State Examination (MMSE)?

We developed the MMSE to solve a clinical problem on a geriatric psychiatric inpatient service. The diagnoses of patients on our unit included depression, dementia, delirium, and occasional late-life schizophrenia. We needed a practical quantitative cognitive exam in order to aide clinicians in determining the severity of cognitive impairment ranging from mild to severe and to document improvement or decline.

At the time, Susan was a psychiatry resident rotating on the geriatric psychiatric unit where I (Marshal) was a junior attending. Always a perfectionist, she was not happy when I repeatedly asked for cognitive information that she had not asked about. So she asked me to write down all the items that I wanted her to include.

What made you decide to update it and create the Mini-Mental® State Examination, Second Edition™ (MMSE®-2™)?

Over the years, students and other users made many suggestions about how to improve the MMSE. There was a need to clarify the instructions so that certain tasks were administered; there was a need for phrases that were more easily translated into other languages; and users requested multiple forms in order to minimize practice effects with serial administration. In addition, we had long wanted to develop a shorter version that could be given very quickly in busy clinical settings, and also a longer version that would eliminate ceiling effects. We wanted this longer version to be more sensitive than the original MMSE to disorders of executive function and to the kinds of memory impairment found in mild cognitive impairment.

What would you like to tell people about the MMSE-2 that they may not know?

The MMSE-2 Standard Version scores are equivalent to the original MMSE scores. We took care that subjects tested during development scored the same, regardless of whether they were given the original MMSE or the MMSE-2 Standard Version. Longitudinal studies currently underway can switch to the new version without any adjustment to scores. The original, unrevised MMSE is still available if users do not want to change to the revised versions.

How do you spend your free time?

Marshal takes flute lessons and is trying to improve his photography. Susan enjoys gardening and reading spy novels, biographies, Jane Austen, and Patrick O’Brian. She has a new job at the University of Miami School of Medicine with a joint appointment in psychiatry and in the Hussman Institute for Human Genomics. We both like to write and watch old movies.

Screen for cognitive impairment with a revised version of the most widely used cognitive status exam...