Dementia is a common and under-diagnosed problem among the elderly. An accurate screening test would greatly aid the ability of physicians to evaluate dementia and memory problems in clinical practice. We sought to determine whether simple and brief psychometric tests perform similarly to the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) in screening for dementia. Using a retrospective analysis, a series of standard, brief, psychometric tests were compared with each other and to the MMSE as screening tests for very mild dementia, using DSM-III-R criterion as the gold standard. Two independent cohorts from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging and the Washington University Alzheimer's Disease Research Center were evaluated. We found that two brief and simple-to-administer tests appear to offer similar degrees of sensitivity and specificity to the MMSE. These are the recall of a five-item name and address, "John Brown 42 Market Street Chicago" and the one-minute verbal fluency for animals. Combining these two tests further improves sensitivity and specificity, surpassing the MMSE, to detect dementia in individuals with memory complaints.