The goal of this blog post is to provide some basic information about what a neuropsychological evaluation is, how we complete the evaluation, and how it can help you.
What’s the difference between a neurologist and neuropsychologist?
A neurologist is a medical doctor that attended a residency training program focused on the brain. A neurologist will order and evaluate brain imaging or lab work such as an MRI or CT scan to determine if there are any obvious signs of a problem. They can also prescribe medications.
This is very helpful in certain cases such as with patients who have experienced a traumatic brain injury or stroke. However, conditions such as learning disabilities, ADHD, or intellectual disabilities are not going to show up on an MRI or CT scan.
A brain scan can identify areas that have been injured but it does not provide information on how that injury is impacting your day-to-day functioning.
A neuropsychologist is a licensed psychologist with expertise in how behavior and skills are related to brain structures and systems. A neuropsychologist works with a patient’s medical doctor to determine how the brain is functioning. For example, a scan might show that there is damage to a certain part of the brain, but a scan can’t provide information on the day-to-day functions that might be impacted by damage to that part of the brain.
Neuropsychological tests examine the following areas of cognitive and emotional functioning to determine how the brain is functioning:
- General Intelligence
- Academic Abilities
- Problem Solving
- Thinking and Reasoning
- Attention and Concentration
- Learning and Memory
- Language Comprehension and Communication
- Visual and Spatial Perception
- Motor and sensory skills
The tests allow us to identify patterns of strengths and weaknesses to help with cognitive rehabilitation, behavior management, treatment planning, or psychotherapy.
What will I have to do during my appointment?
Background Interview: Before we administer any test, we’ll complete an interview to gather background information and to determine a referral question that you would like us to address.
For example, a common complaint among elderly individuals is that they are having difficulties learning and recalling information.
We’ll conduct an interview to learn more about the specific problem you’re having so we can give you the appropriate tests. If necessary, we can interview family members who are familiar with the problems that you are experiencing.
Test Administration: The length of testing and the number of tests that we’ll give varies depending on the presenting problem. For example, an ADHD evaluation might take 3 hours, a learning disability evaluation might take 4-5 hours, while a complicated traumatic brain injury evaluation might require 6-7 hours of testing. Tests can also take longer because some people are slower at taking them.
In most cases, we are able to complete all of the tests in one session. If your particular issue requires extensive testing, we can always complete the testing in 2-3 sessions. This is something that we’ll go over in more detail with you before your appointment during your consultation call.
The tests you will be administered don’t require any preparation or studying. Some of the tests are computerized and others only involve verbal questions, workbooks, or pen and paper tasks.
The tests try to get a sense of your current abilities, so there is no need to learn any new material or practice any skills. They help identify your strengths and weaknesses in different areas of psychological and neuropsychological functioning.
What do you do with my test results?
After you are finished taking the tests, we’ll score them and compare them to other patients’ scores that have the same age, ethnicity, and level of education.
A common fear that most patients have is that they will “fail” a test. These are not pass or fail tests. It’s very rare to have someone get 100% of the answers correct. The tests measure strengths and weaknesses.
On some of these tests, getting 50% of the answers correct might be an average score for the patient’s age, ethnicity, and level of education.
By comparing your scores to other patients with a similar background, we can determine if your performance falls into the average range for the particular domain that we are trying to measure. This is how we can differentiate between someone who has normal age-related memory loss vs. someone that might have Alzheimer’s Disease.
We’ll use your test results to write a comprehensive report that explains how your brain is functioning, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and provide treatment recommendations.
What will the results tell me?
A neuropsychological evaluation will provide you with:
- A better understanding of your cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Tests can also determine if your concerns are due to normal aging or due to a medical or neurological disorder.
- Information for your doctors so they can develop a treatment plan to address the problems you are having.
- Recommendations for your day-to-day life in order to improve your quality of life.
- Recommendations for accommodations in school or work to help you perform at your true potential.
- Establish a “baseline” so that any changes can be monitored and further evaluated.
We’re hoping that this blog post helped answer your questions about what a neuropsychological evaluation is.
A lot of our patients are very anxious when they show up to their appointment. We’ve been doing these types of evaluations for several years and do our best to make sure the experience is pleasant and beneficial.
The goal of a neuropsychological evaluation is to identify your strengths and weaknesses and provide recommendations to improve your quality of life.