Neuropsychological Evaluations

What is neuropsychology?
Who should consider getting a neuropsychological evaluation?
What does a neuropsychological evaluation look like?
How do I prepare for a neuropsychological evaluation?
What happens after an evaluation?

What is neuropsychology?
Neuropsychology is a profession that focuses on the study of brain-behavior relationships. A clinical neuropsychologist is a licensed psychologist who has had extensive, additional training in the field of neuropsychology to be able to determine how different abilities, learning, and behaviors are related to brain functioning.  Appropriate training for a neuropsychologist includes a doctorate in psychology and a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in neuropsychology, with background education in neuroanatomy, cognitive psychology, brain functioning, brain injury and disease processes, and neuropsychological testing (per Division 40 Clinical Neuropsychology of the American Psychological Association guidelines).

Who should consider getting a neuropsychological evaluation?
Dr. Heather Pedersen is the neuropsychologist at NWMHC and works with individuals age 13 and up on a variety of different issues related to their emotional or cognitive functioning. Clients are often referred by their medical or mental health providers, family, the court system, or are self-referred. Reasons for referral may include:

  • Identification of learning disabilities, ADHD, or developmental delays
  • Identification of brain dysfunction after injury or illness, or alcohol/drug exposure in utero
  • Documentation of changes in brain functioning over time
  • Diagnostic clarification
    • Differentiate between dementia, depression, normal aging, and/or mild cognitive impairment
    • Distinguish psychiatric from cognitive disorders
  • Assessment of cognitive strengths and weaknesses
  • Determine how cognitive abilities impact functional skills necessary to live independently
  • Correlation with medical procedures, such as MRI, CT, or EEG
  • Evaluate the possible impact of cognitive problems on life areas, such as employability, return to school, interpersonal relationships, or participation in psychotherapy

Neuropsychological evaluations can be helpful when clients have been diagnosed with or are suspected to have the following diagnoses / conditions:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Anoxic / hypoxic injury
  • Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Brain injury
  • Cancer and chemotherapy
  • Concussion
  • Dementias
  • Epilepsy / seizure disorders
  • Genetic disorders
  • Huntington's disease
  • Learning problems / disorders
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Neurofibromatosis
  • Pain pump placement
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Stroke
  • Substance abuse (history of long-term and/or severe use)
  • Systemic medical diseases

What does a neuropsychological evaluation look like?
A neuropsychological evaluation is a comprehensive assessment of the person's cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and social functioning. It typically begins with an interview, because a person's history and circumstances are important to understanding how they are functioning currently. Other important people in a person's life, such as family members, teachers, or others, may also be interviewed. A neuropsychological assessment uses standardized tests to evaluate cognitive skills, motor abilities, and emotional functioning. The tests are "pencil and paper," computerized or hands-on tests that ask you to solve problems, remember information, or demonstrate skills. Typically, the following areas are evaluated:

  • General intellectual functioning
  • Academic / achievement functioning
  • Language o Visual-spatial skills
  • Attention and concentration
  • Executive functions (such as planning, problem-solving, and organization)
  • Learning and memory
  • Motor coordination / skills
  • Emotional, behavioral, and social development and functioning

How do I prepare for a neuropsychological evaluation?
It is important to get a good night's rest before the evaluation and to eat a good breakfast in the morning. Take medications as prescribed and bring a list of any medications that the client is currently taking. Bring any glasses or hearing aids that the client typically uses. Also, bring lunch (or lunch money if the client prefers to eat at a nearby store or fast-food restaurant). Depending on the referral question and the client's stamina, testing can take anywhere from four to eight hours. Lunch, water, and other breaks will be taken throughout the day to minimize the effects of fatigue. Most people find the evaluation process interesting, and sometimes even fun. It's important for the client to focus on doing their personal best, as opposed to doing "well." Don't think of it so much as a test, but rather as a way to get to know how the client is doing in these different areas.

What happens after an evaluation?
All the information from the evaluation will be used to create a neuropsychological report, with a description of the client's background, cognitive strengths and weaknesses, diagnoses, and recommendations. As appropriate, results of the evaluation are used to:

  • Formulate a plan for treatment and/or intervention
  • Assist in developing an IEP or 504 plan at school and document learning or cognitive disabilities for accommodations at school
  • Make recommendations for healthcare providers
  • Refer for other services, such as rehabilitation, speech or occupational therapy, and/or psychotherapy
  • Suggest accommodations for returning to work
  • Provide compensatory strategies for any cognitive weaknesses or impairments

A one-hour feedback session will be scheduled to review the results of the evaluation with the client and any family or friends the client wishes to share the information with. Feedback will also be provided to the referring provider, if appropriate, or others at the client's request.