Background: The Mini-mental State Examination (MMSE) is widely used in Japan and the U.S.A. for cognitive screening in the clinical setting and in epidemiological studies. A previous Japanese community study reported distributions of the MMSE total score very similar to that of the U.S.A.
Methods: Data were obtained from the Monongahela Valley Independent Elder's Study (MoVIES), a representative sample of community-dwelling elderly people aged 65 and older living near Pittsburgh, U.S.A., and from the Tajiri Project, with similar aims in Tajiri, Japan. We examined item-by-item distributions of the MMSE between two cohorts, comparing (1) percentage of correct answers for each item within each cohort, and (2) relative difficulty of each item measured by Item Characteristic Curve analysis (ICC), which estimates log odds of obtaining a correct answer adjusted for the remaining MMSE items, demographic variables (age, gender, education) and interactions of demographic variables and cohort.
Results: Median MMSE scores were very similar between the two samples within the same education groups. However, the relative difficulty of each item differed substantially between the two cohorts. Specifically, recall and auditory comprehension were easier for the Tajiri group, but reading comprehension and sentence construction were easier for the MoVIES group.
Conclusions: Our results reaffirm the importance of validation and examination of thresholds in each cohort to be studied when a common instrument is used as a dementia screening tool or for defining cognitive impairment.