Facts to Know
- Neuropsychological evaluation is a well-established procedure to assess various cognitive abilities for individuals across the lifespan
- 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?
A neuropsychological evaluation, also called neuropsychological testing, involves the administration, scoring, and interpretation of formal tests of different cognitive abilities, including attention, problem solving, 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. Abilities and skills are considered within a developmental and culturally sensitive framework and compared to peers of the same age or grade, as well as to the individual’s own abilities.
Who completes a neuropsychological evaluation?
A neuropsychologist completes a neuropsychological evaluation. A neuropsychologist is a licensed clinical or school psychologist (with a Psy.D. or Ph.D. degree) who has also completed a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in neuropsychology. Neuropsychologists may specialize in a particular age range, but all neuropsychologists help identify underlying factors that contribute to the strengths and challenges of an individual’s functioning across settings. Neuropsychologists often work closely with other providers, including psychiatrists and psychologists, neurologists, oncologists, and speech/language and occupational therapists.
Who needs a 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
- Educational difficulties and occupational difficulties
- Learning difficulties and disabilities
- Intellectual disability
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Giftedness combined with difficulties in learning or other areas
- Long-term effects of cancer treatments
- Psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, severe depression and bipolar disorder
- Possible Alzheimer’s disease
- Deficits in learning and functioning secondary to neurological and/or birth conditions (e.g., seizure disorders, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, brain tumors, acquired or congenital hydrocephalus, premature birth)
- 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)
A comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation integrates a person’s educational/occupational, 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 (3-4 hours) and include multiple measures of several important cognitive domains or areas that can be assessed in detail.
- Another type can be more comprehensive and include measures of IQ, cognitive abilities, educational performance, and personality. It may take 6-10 hours, scheduled over separate appointments.
These assessments may be focused on a particular area in great depth, such as evaluating for learning problems in individuals with ADHD, for social and adaptive difficulties in individuals with ASD, or for memory challenges in Alzheimer’s disease.
Can neuropsychological evaluation improve quality life?
There are several ways that neuropsychological evaluation may improve quality of life:
- An assessment can provide useful information for establishing an accurate diagnosis, and with it, more precise and individualized treatment. Neuropsychologists provide recommendations for interventions that can implemented in different settings, such as home, a medical setting, or a school setting. Diagnoses can be used to communicate between and among providers and to make sure an individual is getting all of the services they can so that they can meet their ultimate potential.
- 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.
- For children and adolescents, evaluations identify specific areas of strength and weakness in order to develop a comprehensive learning profile. Based on this profile, recommendations for individualized and tailored interventions and accommodations are provided. These interventions are designed to ensure the child is able to access their full potential in and out of school.
- Provide “targets” for enhancing the effectiveness of medication.
- Evaluations help an individual make more informed decisions related to school, work, and life. For example, understanding that an individual has stronger language abilities compared to visual processing skills may direct a person into more liberal arts/communication oriented fields as opposed to science or math.
- Re-evaluation can measure improvement associated with treatment. If an individual has received a neuropsychological evaluation in the past, a re-evaluation can suggest changes to treatment or intervention and/or document changes and development in skills over time, as well as measure long term effects of medical treatments. Re-evaluation may also measure the rate of decline in a progressive dementia such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
How can I get a neuropsychological evaluation at Columbia?
At ColumbiaDoctors, our experts provide the full array of neuropsychological services for children, adolescents, and adults.
Search our providers for a therapist or psychiatrist with expertise in neuropsychological evaluation.
To make an appointment, please call 212-305-6001 or submit our online form.