Neuropsychological evaluations may be requested by a physician, a case worker, a psychologist, a teacher, an attorney, an insurance company, a teacher, or by someone else involved in the patient’s care. Sometimes patients themselves request an evaluation. The purpose of the evaluation may be to help understand what is causing a person to have certain kinds of problems (e.g., with memory, attention, or behavior); to understand how the person’s brain has been affected after some kind of injury or illness (e.g., a brain injury or a stroke or cancer); or to understand the person’s individual strengths and weaknesses to help with rehabilitation planning, educational planning, or vocational planning.
The examination process includes an interview, observations, and formal testing. The examination is very thorough and it is common for patients to feel tired by the end of the day. The testing involves answering a lot of questions, doing paper-and-pencil tasks, solving puzzles, drawing things, remembering things, thinking about things, and completing questionnaires. Some of the tasks will see how fast you are and how well you can concentrate. Some tasks will involve seeing how strong or coordinated you are, or how well you can perceive things by sight or touch. Some look at how well you understand what is said to you, or how well you can express yourself to others. Some tests look at how well you read, write, and do math. The examination may also include understanding some of your feelings. Most of these tasks are interesting and enjoyable, though some are quite hard.
The particular set of tests you will be given will be picked by the neuropsychologist especially for you, to help understand your unique set of problems, or to help answer questions your physician or the referring person has asked. The tests are designed to determine which parts of your brain, and which of your “cognitive functions,” are working well, and which are not working as well as they should be.
Part of the evaluation will involve having you tell your own story about your illness or what has happened to you. You may have already told this over and over again to many different people, but it is one important way the neuropsychologist can get to know you, understand what is happening, and what might have caused it. It is often very helpful for the neuropsychologist to talk to family members as well.