Mental Status

Your assessment of mental status, such as the General Survey, begins with the first words of the interview. As you gather the health history, you will quickly discern the patient's level of alertness and orientation, mood, attention, and memory. As the history unfolds, you will learn about the patient's insight and judgment, as well as any recurring or unusual thoughts or perceptions. For some, you will need to supplement your interview with specific questions and a more formal evaluation of mental status. Just as symptoms, blood pressure, and valvular murmurs help you to distinguish, for example, health from disease in the cardiovascular system, specific components of mental function illuminate the workings of the mind. Although these components do not encompass all the aspects of human thought and feeling, they serve as useful and continually important clinical tools.

Components of the mental status examination include:

■ Appearance and behavior

■ Speech and language

■ Thoughts and perceptions

■ Cognitive function, including memory, attention, information and vocabulary, calculations, and abstract thinking and constructional ability.

Many of these terms are familiar to you from social conversation. Take the time to learn their special meaning in the context of a formal mental status evaluation.

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