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Neuropsychological Evaluation

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Facts to Know

  • Neuropsychological evaluation is a well-established procedure to assess various cognitive abilities.
  • The evaluation is objective and based on empirical research.
  • The results can provide key information for treatment planning, ultimately with the aim of improving an individual’s quality of life.

What is Neuropsychological Evaluation?

Neuropsychological testing involves the administration, scoring, and interpretation of formal tests of different cognitive abilities, including attention, memory, language, visual processing, and executive function. In this way, neuropsychological evaluation is a service that helps inform diagnosis, treatment, and/or life decisions.

Scoring and interpretation of evaluations are evidence-based and objective. Scores are derived from large studies of the normal population to obtain “test norms” that are adjusted for age and educational level. In some cases, neuroimaging studies such as MRI can enhance our understanding of the brain mechanisms that underlie a specific test.

Who needs neuropsychological evaluation?

Indications for neuropsychological evaluation include a wide range of neurologic and psychiatric difficulties and/or conditions including, but not limited to:

  • ADHD and developmental dysexecutive syndromes
  • Psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, severe depression and bipolar disorder, all of which are associated with cognitive deficits
  • Possible Alzheimer’s disease
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Stroke
  • Educational difficulties and occupational difficulties
  • Learning difficulties and disabilities
  • Relatively sudden changes in cognition or MRI findings may require neuropsychological evaluation in order to assess the degree of impairment
  • Forensic (including disability and back to work issues)

Types

A comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation integrates a person’s psychiatric, neurologic, and medical history with the profile or pattern of test results found on evaluation. It should help explain some of the difficulties or distress that an individual experiences in his/her everyday life. There are different types of neuropsychological assessments:

  • Brief screenings that may take under an hour and include mental status questions, orientation, and simple memory and attention items.
  • Other assessments may be relatively brief (1-2 hours) and are more comprehensive and include multiple measures of several important cognitive domains or areas that can be assessed in detail.
  • Another type can be very comprehensive and include measures of IQ, mental abilities, educational performance, and personality. It may take 6-8 hours.
  • Some assessments may be focused on a particular problems area in great depth, such as attention in individuals with ADHD and learning problems or assessing for Alzheimer’s disease in an older person with a focus on memory.

Can neuropsychological evaluation improve quality life?

There are several ways that neuropsychological evaluation may improve quality of life:

  • Based on the results, specific types of cognitive training may be recommended to help improve functioning. Recent research has shown that the brain has of the ability to change and adapt even in adulthood. We call this plasticity. That means that working or training a mental function can produce improvements and possibly even changes in the brain itself. Several brain training programs are available on-line and have shown promise.
  • Provide “targets” for cognitive enhancing medication treatment.
  • An examination can provide useful information for establishing an accurate diagnosis, and with it, more precise, tailored treatment. For example, schizophrenia is associated with a decline in IQ, but, bipolar disorder is not.
  • Evaluation can help with self-knowledge and with school, work, and life decisions. For example, understanding that language is much better than visual processing may direct a person into more liberal arts/communication oriented fields as opposed to science or math. Reduced executive functioning may make financial planning more difficult and require additional support from family members.
  • Re-evaluation may effectively measure improvement associated with treatment. For example, medication and/or psychotherapies may reduce psychiatric symptoms that interfere with cognition.
  • Re-evaluation may also measure the rate of decline in a progressive dementia such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

How can I get neuropsychological evaluation at Columbia?

Here at ColumbiaDoctors, our experts provide the full array of neuropsychological services for children, adolescents, and adults. Click here to find a provider who might be a good fit.

Article Written By:

Terry E. Goldberg, PhD