Clinical neuropsychology is a specialty profession that focuses on brain functioning. A clinical neuropsychologist is a licensed psychologist with expertise in how behavior and skills are related to brain structures and systems. In clinical neuropsychology, brain function is evaluated by objectively testing memory and thinking skills. A very detailed assessment of abilities is done, and the pattern of strengths and weaknesses is used in important health care areas, such as diagnosis and treatment planning. The clinical neuropsychologist conducts the evaluation and makes recommendations. He or she may also provide treatment, such as cognitive rehabilitation, behavior management, or psychotherapy.
A neuropsychological evaluation can be used in many ways:
- Identification of cognitive difficulties. The exam can be used to identify weaknesses in specific areas of cognition. It is very sensitive to mild memory and thinking problems that might not be obvious in other ways.
- Differential diagnosis. Different illnesses result in different patterns of strengths and weakness. Therefore, the exam can also be used to help differentiate among illnesses. This is important since appropriate treatment depends on accurate diagnosis.
- Establishment of baseline. Sometimes the exam is used to establish a “baseline” or document a person’s skills at the onset or before cognitive problems arise. In this way, later changes can be measured very objectively.
- Documentation of change. Following the establishment of a baseline, successive examinations can be utilized to document change over the progression of a disorder, as well as the effects of surgical, medical, and behavioral treatments on the patient’s neurocognitive status.
- Treatment planning. The exam can be used to identify target problems in order to plan for the most effective treatments that use a patient’s cognitive strengths to compensate for weaknesses.