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J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol. 1990 Oct-Dec;3(4):203-7.

Serial sevens versus world backwards: a comparison of the two measures of attention from the MMSE.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Harmarville Rehabilitation Center, PA.


This paper reports on a comparison of the two alternative tests of attention in the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), a well-known cognitive screening tool. The two tests, serial subtraction by seven and backwards spelling of the word world, are often used interchangeably. In a large population-based sample, the two tests were found to be weakly associated with each other, with the former test appearing more difficult, although both were strongly associated with educational level. The authors discuss the implications of this finding in clinical and research settings, and make recommendations for more consistent use of the instrument.

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