The clock drawing test (CDT) and the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) are frequently used screening instruments for cognitive impairment, however, the precise contribution of the CDT to the MMSE is largely unknown.
We studied patients with subjective cognitive impairment (SCI, n = 481), mild cognitive impairment (MCI, n = 628) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD, n = 1099). Discrimination between patients was examined with multiple logistic regression, adjusted for age, sex, and education. Four groups were constructed based on a normal/abnormal MMSE (cut-off <24/30) versus normal/abnormal CDT (cut-off ≤2/3). Visually rated medial temporal lobe atrophy (MTA) on CT was used as parameter of neurodegeneration.
The CDT significantly contributed to the MMSE in discriminating SCI from both MCI and AD patients. Our four group analyses showed that of those patients with a normal MMSE and incorrectly classified as SCI, an abnormal CDT could significantly identify 10.0% as MCI and 13.2% as AD. Among those with an abnormal MMSE, the percentage AD patients shifted from 53.1% to 82.1% due to an abnormal CDT. Presence of an abnormal CDT was significantly related to MTA increase, regardless of the MMSE score.
The CDT is an important additional screening tool to the MMSE. An abnormal CDT with a normal MMSE is an indicator for cognitive impairment. An abnormal CDT in combination with an abnormal MMSE can be considered as an indicator of disease progression.