Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) Test for Dementia

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The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) helps assess people for dementia. It is a 30-question test that takes around 10 to 12 minutes to complete. The test was published in 2005 by a group at McGill University that worked for several years at memory clinics in Montreal.

Here's a look at what the MoCA includes, how it's scored and interpreted, and how it can assist in identifying dementia.

montreal cognitive assessment (MoCA) evaluation
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Assessment

The MoCA checks different types of cognitive or thinking abilities. These include:

  • Orientation: The test administrator asks you to state the date, month, year, day, place, and city.  
  • Short-term memory/delayed recall: Five words are read. The test-taker is asked to repeat them. After completing other tasks, the person is asked to repeat each of the five words again. If they can't recall them, they're given a cue of the category that the word belongs to.
  • Executive function/visuospatial ability: These two abilities are checked through the Trails B Test. It asks you to draw a line to sequence alternating digits and letters (1-A, 2-B, etc.). The test also asks you to draw a cube shape.  
  • Language: This task asks you to repeat two sentences correctly. It then asks you to list all the words in the sentences that start with the letter "F."
  • Abstraction: You are asked to explain how two items are alike, such as a train and a bicycle. This checks your abstract reasoning, which is often impaired in dementia. The proverb interpretation test is another way to measure these skills.
  • Animal naming: Three pictures of animals are shown. The person is asked to name each one. This is mainly used to test verbal fluency.
  • Attention: The test-taker is asked to repeat a series of numbers forward and then a different series backward. This task tests the ability to pay attention. 
  • Clock-drawing test: Unlike the mini-mental state exam (MMSE), the MoCA asks you to draw a clock that reads ten past eleven. 

It is important that this test is done in the patient's first language to be accurate.

Scoring

Scores on the MoCA range from zero to 30. A score of 26 and higher is considered normal.

In the initial study data, normal controls had an average score of 27.4. People with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) scored an average of 22.1. People with Alzheimer's disease had an average score of 16.2.

The scoring breakdown is as follows:

  • Visuospatial and executive functioning: 5 points
  • Animal naming: 3 points
  • Attention: 6 points
  • Language: 3 points
  • Abstraction: 2 points
  • Delayed recall (short-term memory): 5 points
  • Orientation: 6 points
  • Education level: 1 point is added to the test-taker's score if they have 12 years or less of formal education 

Usefulness

The MoCA helps health professionals determine quickly whether someone's thinking ability is impaired. It also helps them decide if an in-depth diagnostic workup for Alzheimer's disease is needed.

It may help predict dementia in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Because it tests for executive function, it is more sensitive in this regard than the MMSE. Finally, it's been shown to better identify cognitive problems in people with Parkinson's disease.

Advantages vs. Disadvantages

The MoCA is brief, simple, and reliable as a screening test for Alzheimer's disease. It checks executive function, an important part of dementia that's not measured by the MMSE. Unlike the MMSE, it is free for non-profit use.

The MoCA is available in more than 35 languages. Versions that test people with hearing loss and vision impairment have also been developed.

A disadvantage of the MoCA is that it takes a little longer than the MMSE to administer. It should also be used with multiple other screenings and tests to diagnose dementia.

Summary

Early diagnosis of mental decline is important. The MoCA is a 30-item test that allows healthcare providers to find out how well a person's thinking abilities are functioning.

The test checks language, memory, visual and spatial thinking, reasoning, and orientation skills. Using it, healthcare providers can quickly determine when someone might need fuller testing for Alzheimer's or dementia.

A Word From Verywell

Being aware of what the MoCA includes and how it's scored can help you better understand its results for you or your loved one. The MoCA should be given by a physician and combined with several other assessments. That gives the best, most accurate evaluation of mental functioning to identify possible causes of memory loss.  

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does the MoCA test your short-term memory?

    Yes, this is known as the short-term memory/delayed recall section of the MoCA. The person taking the test is read five words, and then repeats them aloud. After a few other tasks of the MoCA have been completed, the person is asked to repeat the five words from earlier. If they cannot remember the words, they are given a hint of their category.

  • Are there different types of cognitive function test?

    Yes, there are different kinds of cognitive function test. In addition to the MoCA, other common tests include the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) and the Mini-Cog. These work similarly to the MoCA but are intended for slightly different purposes; the MoCA is generally meant for mild cognitive impairment, while more serious cognitive issues might be more easily found using the MMSE.

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5 Sources
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  1. Kim H, Yu KH, Lee BC, Kim BC, Kang Y. Validity of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) index scores: A comparison with the cognitive domain scores of the Seoul Neuropsychological Screening Battery (SNSB). Dement Neurocogn Disord. 2021;20(3):28-37. doi:10.12779/dnd.2021.20.3.28

  2. Dautzenberg G, Lijmer J, Beekman A. Diagnostic accuracy of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) for cognitive screening in old age psychiatry: Determining cutoff scores in clinical practice. Avoiding spectrum bias caused by healthy controls. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2020;35(3):261-269. doi:10.1002/gps.5227

  3. Vásquez KA, Valverde EM, Aguilar DV, Gabarain HH. Montreal Cognitive Assessment scale in patients with Parkinson Disease with normal scores in the Mini-Mental State Examination. Dement Neuropsychol. 2019;13(1):78-81. doi:10.1590/1980-57642018dn13-010008

  4. Dawes P, Pye A, Reeves D, et al. Protocol for the development of versions of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) for people with hearing or vision impairment. BMJ Open. 2019;9(3):e026246. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-026246

  5. MedlinePlus. Cognitive Testing.

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