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Neuropsychological Assessments – Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a neurologist and a neuropsychologist?

A neurologist is a specific type of medical doctor, who is trained in diagnosing and treating disorders of the brain and nervous system. Such disorders include conditions that can affect the central nervous system (including the brain and spinal cord), the peripheral nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system. Neurologists may want to assess a person’s ability to walk, coordinate movements, and other actions such as hand-eye coordination. They will examine one’s brain functions for injury, diseases, or developmental problems. Neurologists may treat individuals who experience a stroke as well as individuals with epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and hundreds of other neurological issues. Neuropsychology is the study of the relationship between the brain and behavior. A neuropsychologist, for example, may assess a person’s ability to learn and recall information, to attend to their environment, concentrate and focus, as well as their emotional well-being. Neuropsychologists administer a battery of psychological tests that measure problem-solving skills, reasoning and conceptualization abilities, sensory-motor abilities, learning, memory, receptive and expressive language, perceptual-motor skills, and cognitive abilities, to examine an individual’s overall functioning. From the information gathered during the evaluation, a neuropsychologist uses the individual’s pattern of strengths and weaknesses to assess brain functioning. From this complex and detailed set of measurements, a variety of inferences can be drawn relating directly to the functioning of an individual’s brain and their overt behaviors. Neuropsychologists help assess and monitor the recovery of function of individuals who experience traumatic brain injury, examine the ability of an individual with a disorder that affects reasoning abilities, or help discriminate between disorders such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome.

What is the difference between a neurological assessment & a neuropsychological assessment?
A neurological assessment is a series of questions and tests that provide crucial information about the nervous system and any related abnormalities. The neurological assessment, which is performed by a neurologist, is divided into several components, each focusing on a different part of the nervous system. A neurologist may assess a person’s mental status, sensory system, motor system, cranial nerves, or reflexes as well as any other areas related to the nervous system. Often diagnostic tests, such as EEGs, x-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans of the head or spine may be given to obtain information about brain functioning. This information is used to determine appropriate medical treatment. A neurologist sometimes recommends neuropsychological evaluations to assess cognition or emotional status. A neuropsychological assessment provides a profile of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses that is used to develop intervention strategies to capitalize on strengths and build on areas of weakness. A person’s performance on a variety of tasks is compared to that of same age peers. Areas of brain functioning such as attention, memory, visual-motor and sensory abilities, ability to regulate behaviors and emotions, solve complex problems, and monitor and adjust one’s behavior as needed are some of the areas that are evaluated. Standardized, objective, and reliable measures of diverse aspects of human cognition and behavior allow for a complete picture of an individual’s higher cortical functioning. This picture of current brain/cognitive functioning is used to guide intervention planning. Interventions can include learning strategies that utilize strengths, remediation of specific skills, strategies to improve areas of weakness, therapy to improve emotional or behavioral functioning, or collaboration with other professionals such as speech/language pathologists, occupational or physical therapists, audiologists, or neurologists.

What are executive functions?
Over the last ten years there has been increased interest in “executive functions” and their role in behavior and emotional functioning. The term executive function (EF) is an “umbrella term” which encompasses a set of several abilities which primarily reside in the frontal lobes of the brain. Planning, problem-solving, self-monitoring, organization, divided attention, shifting or mental flexibility, and initiation of behaviors are often included under the term executive functions. Attention and working memory are also sometimes listed as executive functions. EFs develop throughout childhood, adolescence, and even into young adulthood. The development of executive functions is considered to be important because they are necessary for purposeful, planned, organized behaviors such as goal-setting and attainment. There are a variety of reasons that an individual may have difficulty with executive functions. Some individuals with ADD/ADHD have problems with executive functions. Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, Tourette’s Syndrome, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, traumatic brain injuries, emotional problems, and other developmental or genetic disorders may struggle with executive functions as well. Impairments in executive functions can cut across many areas and affect academic performance, social interactions, and vocational performance.