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Memory Testing

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What is Memory Testing?

Memory testing involves examinations such as a mental-status test or a thorough cognitive assessment performed to evaluate both short-term and long-term memory skills in individuals who may be suffering from memory loss or memory-related conditions.

Memory testing involves assessment of specific aspects of memory such as:

  • Auditory and visual memory: Ability to memorise things that you hear and see
  • Delayed memory: Memory across time
  • Distractibility: The capacity to focus on things to be remembered
  • Retrieval from memory

What is Memory Loss?

Mild forms of memory loss are experienced by everyone, but incidence often increases with age. This type of memory loss does not usually adversely affect activities of daily living. However, a memory disorder that occurs as a result of illness may be significant enough to hamper your daily routine.

Memory disorders may be temporary or permanent, progress gradually as in Alzheimer’s disease, or begin suddenly as with brain trauma. You may retain older memories but may have trouble making new ones. Memory loss is usually caused by an underlying condition, which if treated, could possibly reverse it.

Impairment in memory storage, retention, and recollection occurs as a result of mild or severe neurological damage to the brain that may be caused by neurodegenerative illnesses (Huntington’s disease or Parkinson’s disease), brain tumours, head injury, sleep deprivation, mental disorders (ADHD, depression or bipolar disorder) and vitamin B12 deficiency.

Memory Tests Involved in Evaluation of Memory Skills

Some of the memory tests used to evaluate an individual’s thinking and memory skills include:

  • Mini-Mental Status Exam (MMSE): MMSE involves a brief assessment in which your physician asks basic questions. With these questions, your physician may prompt you to remember a few words such as “dollar”, “key”, “banana”, copy a line drawing, write a sentence, or count backwards by threes from twenty. The goal of this is to get a sense of what your issues are and to briefly evaluate your thinking and memory skills. Information obtained from MMSE is just one aspect of the initial screening.
  • Cognitive Evaluation: A neuropsychologist performs this examination, which typically involves thirty to forty-five minutes of interaction with your physician, followed by a few hours of testing. A thorough cognitive evaluation may include multiple tests that involve paper and pencil, as well as some with computer. The main objective of these tests is to assess different sections of cognitive abilities such as problem solving, processing speed, language skills, and memory.
  • Medical examination: Deterioration in memory and thinking skills can reflect an underlying medical condition. Hence, your physician may order blood tests to check if you have abnormal hormone or vitamin levels which can affect your thinking and memory skills or maybe causing thinking and memory issues. An MRI scan may be ordered to see if structural abnormalities such as a tumour or stroke are to blame. Your physician may also ask you about your sleep patterns and mood issues.
  • California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT): This is a test designed to evaluate children with memory issues. The test assesses the techniques employed by children to learn and recall verbal material. The CVLT can assist with diagnosing and treating memory deficits. The test measures a child’s degree of recognition and total recall, level of learning verbal material, approaches utilised to remember material, ability to remember words that appear first or last in a list, level of vulnerability to interference, consistency, and short-term and long-term retention.
  • Wisconsin Card Sort Test (WCST): This is an objective neuropsychological test that is employed to assess functions of the frontal lobe including working memory and visual skills. Working memory refers to your capacity to grasp information in your mind while making a decision about it. The test takes around 20 minutes to finish. During this test, four cards are offered to an individual with instruction on strategy to arrange the cards (e.g., arrange by colour). The individual should work out what sorting strategy to employ. Throughout the test, different sorting strategies will be required to complete the task. The individual should adapt to these changes however, those with frontal lobe injury often have difficulty completing these tasks.
  • Tests of Executive Functioning: Executive functioning refers to how successfully the brain can perform higher-order functions. This involves the brain’s problem-solving abilities (i.e., planning, reasoning, and organization); flexibility in analytical thinking; and the capability to integrate feedback from others. These capabilities are mainly associated with the frontal lobe of the brain. Tests that assess executive functioning aim at determining the individual’s capacity to manage tasks involving high-level cognitive skills.
  • Kagan Matching Familiar Figures Test (MFFT): This test is utilised to assess a person’s tendency towards impulsivity versus reflection when solving issues. Reflection is the capacity to consider different possibilities when encountered with a complex situation. This approach usually results in a correct course of action. On the contrary, impulsivity is making a decision quickly without weighing alternatives or consequences. Impulsivity commonly results in mistakes and is a poor way of solving problems. Each item on the MFFT contains an image of a common object and six other identical images. Only one image is similar to the original. The other five images slightly differ from the original. The test-taker is asked to select the image that is identical to the original image.


Your physician will collate information from your test results and try to establish the reason behind your memory issues. By carrying out a thorough cognitive evaluation and assessing strengths and weaknesses in your thinking abilities, your physician can determine areas of the brain most affected and whether there is a reason for concern. If your physician notices considerable cognitive decline, you may be started on medications to assist with managing symptoms better or advise on enrolling in a clinical trial for further analysis of your condition. Your physician may also recommend social involvement and regular exercise, which have been known to enhance memory and thinking abilities.

  • The Society of British Neurological Surgeons
  • British Orthopaedic Association
  • Maharshi Dayanand University