What is neuropsychological testing?

David B. Reuben, MD
Geriatric Medicine
Neuropsychological testing is a formal process for the diagnosis of dementia. It involves a number of small tests, which generally take two to three hours. After that, the doctor can determine whether the patient's impairments meet the criteria for dementia. The doctor may also order laboratory tests to exclude other medical contributors to problems with cognition such as thyroid disease, kidney disease and liver disease. Rarely, vitamin deficiencies can cause dementia-like symptoms.

Neuropsychology establishes a baseline measure of the major functional areas of the brain (e.g. language, memory). Neuropsychological testing allows identification of which areas of the brain are functioning normally and which areas are having problems. Once the neuropsychological baseline is created, the following is possible. The patient’s medical doctor can look for reversible causes of the specific impairments that the neuropsychological exam identifies. The doctor can also send the patient for rehabilitation to try to improve functioning in the areas that are giving the patient problems. In addition, the patient and family benefit from the neuropsychological exam because they can better understand the nature of the problems the patient is having. The more the patient knows about the deficits they are experiencing, the better they can adjust to them and maximize quality of life. Repeat neuropsychological testing after three months to a year, allows comparison to the baseline measure, to see if the problems have remained unchanged, improved, or gotten worse. Repeat testing helps understand the progress of any treatment that was prescribed and updating of recommendations.

Neuropsychologists work with neurologists and neurosurgeons to assess a variety of neurological issues and suspected cognitive dysfunction. Any patient with a suspected change in thinking abilities may benefit from a neuropsychological evaluation.

Evaluations assess a broad range of thinking abilities including general intellectual function, memory, learning, attention, concentration, processing speed, verbal comprehension, language, visual perception, perceptual organization, basic motor and sensory function, academic skills, reasoning, problem-solving, abstraction and other executive functions.

A neuropsychological evaluation also encompasses a patient's emotional and psychological status. Patient treatment and rehabilitation is then tailored to each patient's level of cognitive function.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.