Stroke is the second most common cause of death and the third most common source of disability (1, 2). Its prevalence and incidence increases with age representing the leading cause of disability in the elderly (2). Patients with stroke have cognitive deficits in a very high proportion of cases [e.g., Ref. (1)], although variables estimates are reported. The differences are likely due to variability in sample characteristics, assessment methods, definitions of impairment, and time interval since stroke onset (1). As cognitive assessment is time consuming, physicians often use smart tools to assess cognitive impairment in stroke survivors that need little time but are often of limited use to highlight cognitive dysfunction, typically yielding relatively low-prevalence rates, below 25% (3, 4). On the opposite, more detailed neuropsychological assessments of domain-specific cognitive impairments consume more time but are better at detecting cognitive impairment, highlighting higher occurrences, ranging from 35 to 92% (5–8). Language, spatial attention, memory, praxis, executive function, and speed of processing are the main impaired cognitive domains (5). Moreover, psychiatric comorbidities such as depression and delirium often occur after a stroke (9). Cognitive deficits interfere with rehabilitation and represent a negative prognostic factor (10, 11), impacting on activities of daily living, quality of life, and return to work (12).
Stroke guidelines recommend the importance of early cognitive diagnosis in order to plan tailored rehabilitation programs (13). Tools, such as the Mini-Mental State Examination [MMSE; (14)] and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment [MoCA; (15)], are widely used as a practical solution to briefly assess cognition post-stroke. However, these instruments were devised for evaluation of patients with dementia and only provide a “domain-general” cognitive score with a single cutoff for impairment. The present study describes the use of a newly devised instrument, the Oxford Cognitive Screen (OCS), against one of these two reference tools, namely the MMSE; in a parallel study, we examined the effectiveness of the OCS against the MoCA (16).
Interest in using the MMSE as a comparison chiefly stems from its wide use; indeed, it is one of the most widely tests used in clinical practice. Early reviews emphasized the reliability and construct validity of the MMSE to capture moderate-to-severe cognitive impairment (17). However, the limits of the MMSE are also well-known particularly in the assessment of stroke patients (18, 19). In spite of this, the MMSE is still one of the instruments which is most widely used nowadays in clinical settings to detect global cognitive impairment in patients with stroke (20–30). In particular, it is used as a diagnostic index in the stroke units to plan the rehabilitation interventions as well as in the identification of cognitive profiles after non-dementia cerebro-vascular events (21, 29, 31–33).
The key problem in using the MMSE to assess stroke sequelae is that it does not explicitly assess common post-stroke domain-specific impairments such as neglect, executive function, apraxia, and aphasia. Indeed, performance on the MMSE can be confounded by co-occurring difficulties in these domains. For example, a patient with expressive aphasia will maximally score 4 points (out of a maximum 30) as the large majority of tasks require spoken language. This would lead to a potential misclassification of patients as “dementia” where there is a specific language impairment. Similarly, specific cognitive impairments may be “missed” in patients with stroke. This lack of specificity contrasts the indications of several clinical guidelines which emphasize the need to assess performance across different domains of cognition after stroke [e.g., Ref. (2, 34)].
The OCS was recently developed with the specific aim of describing the cognitive deficits after stroke (35); OCS was devised to be inclusive and un-confounded by aphasia and neglect. It can be administered within 15 min, can be delivered at the bedside, is easy to administer and score, can be used in relatively acute phase (after 3 days from onset) and provides a “snapshot” of a patient’s cognitive profile useful to define the rehabilitative program. The possibility to have separate cutoff for each of the tasks used allows obtaining a cognitive pinpointing strengths and weaknesses of individual stroke patients.
The scale consists of 10 tasks encompassing five cognitive domains: attention and executive function, language, memory, number processing, and praxis. Furthermore, it includes a brief evaluation of visual field defects. Administration is simple and brief (ca. 15 min) making it also suitable for immobilized patients. Demeyere et al. (16) provided initial data on a sample of stroke patients indicating the ability of the scale to detect differentiated profiles across the various domains and also reported a greater sensitivity of OCS over MoCA.
In order to assess whether this new instrument provides a sensitive and practical first line assessment supporting wider adoption, the present study aimed to compare the OCS with the MMSE in detecting cognitive symptoms after stroke, thereby providing further data on the sensitivity and specificity of the OCS in the identification of cognitive deficits in a relatively large sample of first stroke patients. We also examined OCS performance as a function of subtypes of cerebral infarction [based on the Bamford classification; (36)] and clinical severity [based on the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale, NIHSS; (37)]. […]