A neuropsychologist is a psychologist who is trained to understand how the brain works; specifically, how conditions or disorders that affect the brain or nervous system can change behaviour, emotions or cognitive function (thinking skills).
You might need to see a neuropsychologist for assessment, diagnosis and treatment recommendations, if you are experiencing difficulties with learning, memory, attention, language, decision-making or other aspects of behaviour and thinking.
What is a Neuropsychological Assessment?
An assessment aims to examine a person’s pattern of cognitive function – for example, determining strengths and weaknesses in thinking skills. Thinking skills such as general intelligence, academic skills, learning and memory, language, visuo-spatial, attention and concentration, fine motor and sensory skills and higher level executive skills (eg planning and organisation, self-monitoring) may be evaluated. Mood, personality and behaviour may also be assessed.
The assessment usually begins with an interview, where you will be asked about your symptoms, history and background. With your permission, sometimes a family member or friend will be asked about any changes in skills, or to assist explain your concerns. The purpose is to gain a thorough understanding of your symptoms.
The second part of the assessment involves testing. You may be asked to answer questions, write or draw things, remember information, and solve problems. You may also take some tests on a computer. As the tests are designed to challenge you, it is common to find some tasks easy and other tasks more difficult.
Common Questions about Neuropsychological Assessment
How Long will the Assessment take?
The length of a neuropsychological assessment will vary depending on the reason for the assessment, although typically it can take anywhere from 2-6 hours.
Often the assessment is done in one day with breaks; however, longer assessments might be performed over a number of sessions. Your neuropsychologist will be able to give you an indication of this after your first interview.
How do I prepare for an assessment?
A neuropsychological assessment is not something that you can study for. You can best prepare yourself by making sure that you get a good night’s sleep before an assessment; it is important that you are rested, feeling well and have not used alcohol or recreational drugs (eg marijuana) at least 24 hours before your appointment, in order to get an accurate picture of your abilities. Take your medication as normal.
If you have glasses or hearing aids it is important to bring these along to your appointment.
What happens after an assessment?
Your neuropsychologist will compare your results on each test with large groups of healthy people to determine whether a score is normal or expected, given your age and background. The results are used to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to answer the referral question (see “Reasons for needing a neuropsychological assessment” below).
The results are presented in a confidential report that will be provided to the person referring for an assessment (eg you, doctor, lawyer, Work Cover advisor). A feedback session may be organised with you to discuss the results, and review recommendations and strategies for managing any areas of difficulty.
Reasons for Needing a Neuropsychological Assessment
Below are some common situations/questions where a neuropsychological assessment might be helpful.
- Is he/she gifted?
- Does he/she have an intellectual impairment?
- Does the child have ADHD or a learning disorder?
- What is the impact of a brain injury or neurological condition, and how can we best support the child in the classroom?
- Is a decline in memory due to ageing, depression or a dementia?
- Does the person have capacity to manage finances, make an EPOA etc?
- Establishing a baseline of cognitive function in order to measure change in the future (especially if there is concern about mild cognitive impairment, dementia or some other neurodegenerative condition).
- To guide rehabilitation after an acquired brain injury (such as TBI, Stroke) eg impact of cognitive functioning on returning to driving, returning to work, managing money.
- To document the degree of disability (eg for Centrelink, Work Cover, Total Permanent Disability).
- To understand the impact of a condition (eg epilepsy, brain tumour, MS, Parkinson’s disease) on cognitive, emotional or behavioural function.
- To provide recommendations to you, your family and support services to help you be more successful at work, home or in relationships.
Author: Dr Megan Broughton, BA Hons (Psych), PhD (Clinical Psychology & Clinical Neuropsychology), MAPS, MCCLP, MCCN.
Dr Megan Broughton is a Clinical Neuropsychologist, with over 10 years’ experience in assessing, diagnosing and treating clients with a range of psychological and neurological conditions. She is passionate about helping adults and their family members cope with challenges associated with health conditions, accident, ageing, or disability.
To make an appointment with Dr Megan Broughton, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call (07) 3088 5422.