Clinical neuropsychology is a specialty area of psychological practice that focuses on brain functioning. Registered Psychologists with expertise in clinical neuropsychology are knowledgeable as to how behavior and skills relate to brain functioning. In neuropsychological assessments, brain function is evaluated by objectively testing memory and other mental skills (intellect, planning, problem solving, attention and concentration, language, visual processing, movement and sensation). Mood and personality are also impacted by brain functioning and are routinely assessed in a neuropsychological assessment. Following this detailed assessment, a profile of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses is generated. This profile can be used in important health care areas such as diagnosis and treatment or rehabilitation planning.
Individuals are usually referred for neuropsychological evaluation to help gain a better understanding of how well their brain is functioning. Such testing is recommended when there are symptoms or complaints involving memory, thinking, or personality change. The changes may be due to any number of medical, neurological or psychological causes. Individuals may be referred for assessment following a traumatic brain injury, stroke or seizure, or when they are having difficulties as a result of a brain tumor or dementia. Person’s suffering from depression or anxiety may also be referred so as to gain a better understanding of the impact of these conditions on their thinking. Testing will be helpful in better understanding each individual’s unique situation.
Neuropsychological assessments may help in a number of ways. First, the assessments may provide objective evidence of mild difficulties with mental skills such as memory that are otherwise not obvious in less detailed examinations. Second, because different illnesses result in unique profiles of strengths and weaknesses, neuropsychological testing can assist in making an accurate diagnosis, which in turn guides treatment decisions. Within a rehabilitation context, test results can be used to tailor treatment plans that use strengths to compensate for weaknesses. Knowing an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses allows for customized rehabilitation and treatment, which is the best means of achieving optimal results. Finally, research has shown that scores on some specific tests relate to everyday functional skills like managing money, driving and readiness to return to work. In this way neuropsychological testing can help guide planning for future assistance or treatment.
Neuropsychological evaluations usually involve an interview and testing. A friend or family member may be asked to provide additional information, as the psychologist attempts to understand the impact of the individual’s symptoms, and gain detailed information as to their medical history and other important factors. Testing involves taking paper-and- pencil tests or answering questions, and typically takes several hours owing to the range of mental skills being assessed. Some tests are easy, while others are more difficult. Bring glasses or a hearing aid if needed, and refrain from taking any non-prescription drugs in the day prior to testing. Most people find the testing interesting, and the detailed information that the testing yields will contribute significantly to care.
Dr. Martzke has many years’ experience conducting medical-legal assessments, including assessments requested by third parties for the determination of disability and planning of vocational rehabilitation. Our use of evidence-based methods of practice is an asset when we serve as consultants and expert witnesses within a medical-legal context.