Neuropsychological Evaluations and You
You or one of your loved ones may have recently been referred for a neuropsychological evaluation. It’s only natural to be intimidated or overwhelmed by the prospect of undergoing one, but any discomfort or anxiety can be soothed by information and education about what the test is for and what to expect.
The brain is a complex organ composed of highly specialized networks and pathways, and all of it is ultimately responsible for defining our behavior, our emotions, cognition, memories, and knowledge. Essentially, and this is probably common knowledge, everything in the brain is in actuality who we are as people. Research and observation over the years has shown us that damage to certain parts of the brain can affect different types of behaviors and areas of functioning. Neuropsychology is the study of the relationship between the physical brain, and a person’s behavior, cognition, emotion, and responses.
A neuropsychologist has specialized training and knowledge which allows them to have the best current understanding of the way the brain functions, and they can employ neuropsychological evaluations to measure the most sophisticated components of behavior in an objective, standardized way. This expertise is used in all stages of someone’s lifespan to evaluate, diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate patients with neurological, psychiatric, or other medical conditions.
Neuropsychological evaluations are only a unique piece in a complex quilt of information, and it complements anything uncovered by other, different diagnostic exams. Your primary care provider may, for example, request a brain image scan, such as an MRI, to obtain a detailed and accurate image of all the structures and pathways inside your physical brain matter. These images will reveal any physical changes and abnormalities, but they can’t necessarily tell you how these changes will affect your daily functioning and future capabilities. And on the other side of the coin, your brain could be physically normal, but even so you may actually be experiencing losses in function due to other medical conditions undetectable by the scan.
Neuropsychologists look at the actual behavioral output of the brain and tell you how your cognitive and emotional functioning may have become diminished by structural abnormalities in the brain, and what impact on your daily life these changes could have, and also what can potentially be modified or improved upon through actionable recommendations.
An evaluation may be recommended for a number of different reasons, such as for clarifying behavior, aiding a diagnosis, helping with disease and symptom management, overall care, planning, and evaluating the efficacy of a current therapeutic strategy.
The evaluation can identify which of your cognitive abilities are weaker and should be the focus of your rehabilitation. It can, at the same time, identify areas in which your brain and cognition is strong, and could potentially be used to make up for any weaknesses. Knowing these things about yourself can help you to prioritize decisions in your day to day life based on the things most important to you, as well as make effective plans for the future that are appropriate for your level of ability.