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Caregiver Training Blog

Dementia Assessment Tool: The SLUMS Test

Caregivers of the elderly often refer to the SLUMS Exam and the GDS in evaluating the health and condition of their patients. The SLUMS Examination is a screening tool for dementia developed by Saint Louis University geriatricians that identifies mild cognitive problems, and the GDS is a 30-item self-report assessment used to identify depression. Both are designed for use with the elderly.

dementia-assessment-tool-the-slums-testThere is no single, definitive test to determine whether an individual is suffering from dementia. Rather, the healthcare team considers all potential causes while conducting a comprehensive assessment of the patient. Doctors often use the SLUMS Examination in order to determine whether further testing might be necessary. Let's take a closer look at this widely used, clinician-administered diagnostic tool.

All About the SLUMS Exam

Created by the Division of Geriatric Medicine at Saint Louis University, the Saint Louis University Mental Status Examination (SLUMS) is frequently used by professionals who suspect that a patient may have Alzheimer's disease, an alternate form of dementia, or mild neurocognitive impairment. In addition to helping physicians determine whether dementia onset may be imminent, the SLUMS Exam also helps providers rule out the diagnosis of dementia.

This screening questionnaire consists of 11 brief questions scored on a 30 point scale. It takes approximately seven to 10 minutes to administer. Questions cover a wide range of functions, including memory, attention, orientation, and overall executive function. This includes everything from clock drawing to animal naming. It also includes tests on digit span, size differentiation, and figure recognition.

Overall areas of assessment include cognition, language, mental health, reasoning, problem-solving, attention and working memory. Cut-off scores for the three categories⁠—"Normal," "Mild Neurocognitive Impairment," and "Dementia"⁠—are based on the patient's level of education.

While there are other similar tests, the SLUMS Exam is free and can be downloaded online. The SLUMS Exam is also considered to be more sensitive than a test like the MMSE (Mini-Mental Status Examination) and so can pick up on any issues sooner. Because the SLUMS Exam is more comprehensive than the MMSE, be sure to ask your aging loved one's physician which exam will be conducted.

Another advantage of the SLUMS Exam is that it can be conducted in the office with immediate results. This means eliminating extra time between appointments which can interfere with a patient's access to critical early treatment.

The video below provides a step-by-step demonstration of the SLUMS Examination being performed in Dr. Smith's office with a geriatric patient.

Why is the SLUMS Exam Important?

The signs and symptoms of dementia can come on slowly, and are often missed or dismissed by family members and caregivers. This is a problem because early intervention plays such an important role in slowing the progression of dementia and dementia-related diseases.

While these assessments can be stressful to seniors, it's possible to reduce test anxiety by reassuring them that it's a pleasant, stress-free experience. Caregivers who are concerned about how to prepare loved ones for the test can watch a doctor administer the exam (in English with Spanish subtitles) at mmLearn.org.

If you find the results of your aging loved one's SLUMS Exam to be unsatisfactory, you do have recourse. A geriatric or neurological consultation can help further determine whether dementia is present, and if so what type.

The following video shows Dr. David A. Smith from the previous video, where he goes over a Q&A on the SLUMS Exam and some common concerns when it comes to testing and what the results can mean.

The importance of early diagnosis when it comes to treatment for Alzheimer's and dementia cannot be overstated. If you suspect that your aging loved one may be experiencing cognitive decline, talk to his/her physician about whether the SLUMS Exam is appropriate. And don't forget to visit mmLearn.org for more useful information for caregivers on dementia, along with a comprehensive selection of caregiver training videos.

Also, if you're at a loss of which things you or any caregiver can do with a person with dementia, this ebook describes 12 inexpensive and meaningful activities for dementia patients, along with practical advice to make caregiving easier.

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