When Is the Best Time for a Neuropsychological Assessment?

Neuropsychological assessments are valuable tools for diagnosing neurological conditions and determining the strengths and weaknesses of those being tested. They also form the foundation of treatment and can serve as a guide for how effective treatment is. However, you may be wondering when the best time to pursue a neuropsychological assessment is. Unfortunately, the answer is not so straightforward.


What is a Neuropsychological Assessment?

A neuropsychological assessment is a diagnostic tool used to provide an overview of your cognitive and behavioral abilities. It utilizes a set of standardized tests and procedures that vary based on the reason for evaluation.

They allow a neuropsychologist to measure how well someone’s brain is working and can test a variety of abilities, including:

  • language usage
  • reading
  • attention
  • processing speed
  • learning
  • memory
  • reasoning
  • problem-solving
  • personality and mood


What Are Neuropsychological Assessments Used For?

There are two main things that can disrupt how well someone’s brain works: a brain injury or a psychological disorder.

Neuropsychological assessments can be used to diagnose a range of neurological disorders, including:

  • ADHD
  • depression
  • dementia
  • Autism

They can also be used to determine the extent of damage caused by a brain injury, such as a stroke or concussion.


Why Would You Request a Neuropsychological Assessment?

There are many reasons why someone may need a neuropsychological assessment. Let’s explore a few.


To Help with Diagnosis

If there is speculation that you or your child has a neurological condition, such as ADHD or a learning disability, a neuropsychological assessment can be used to help verify a diagnosis.

For those who have suffered a brain injury, such as a stroke or concussion, a neuropsychological assessment is typically utilized in order to determine how severe the damage is, what areas of functioning are impacted, and to what extent.


To Determine Cognitive Strengths and Weaknesses

A neuropsychological assessment is not solely used to determine if there is a neurological disorder present. It also helps to determine any cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Not only does this aid in making a proper diagnosis, but it can also help with the formation of a treatment plan.


To Establish a Baseline

In some cases, neuropsychological assessments are completed before and after treatment in order to gauge how effective the treatment was. By completing a neuropsychological assessment before treatment, a baseline can be established that can be compared to the assessment conducted following treatment. This baseline allows the neuropsychologists to see what areas the treatment helped with, and which remained the same or worsened. With this information, they can conclude to continue with the same treatment or switch to a different option that may be more successful.


To Help Plan a Treatment or Other Intervention

As mentioned previously, neuropsychologists can use cognitive strengths and weaknesses to help make a treatment plan. In addition, knowing what neurological condition someone has allows the neuropsychologist to choose a treatment that is effective with those who have that condition, and weighing their strengths and weaknesses will enable them to narrow down the options even more until they can decide upon the best treatment.

For those with a brain injury, a neuropsychological assessment allows the neuropsychologist to see what areas of the brain were impacted by the injury, along with what cognitive functions.


When is the Best Time for a Neuropsychological Assessment?


At the Onset of Certain Symptoms

Some problems that may signify a need for a neuropsychological assessment include:

  • frequently losing items
  • asking the same question repeatedly
  • confusion
  • difficulty speaking, finding words, or understanding others
  • poor attention and conversation
  • can’t recognize things
  • difficulty drawing or using a map
  • unexplained change in personality (especially depression, anxiety, or development of hallucinations or delusions)
  • poor judgment or decision making
  • can’t recognize familiar people
  • new difficulty with managing finances or bills


The conditions that neuropsychological assessments are used for are vast, so the symptoms to watch out for are also considerable and wide-ranging. However, if you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or someone you know, it is a good idea to inquire about a neuropsychological assessment to determine the root of the cause.

Essentially, anything that seems to signal something off in cognitive functioning (i.e., thinking, articulation, processing, etc.) warrants an inquiry about a neuropsychological assessment. In addition, if you have recently had any type of brain injury, such as a concussion or stroke, you will want to schedule a neuropsychological assessment in order to ascertain the extent of the damage.


Following Treatment

Neuropsychological assessments are not only used at the beginning of your diagnosis and treatment process. Your neuropsychologist will let you know if they want to do a follow-up assessment in order to gauge how effective the treatment is and see if they need to make any modifications to the treatment plan.

So, the question of when the best time for a neuropsychological assessment is can be tricky to answer. It is best to schedule one, or at least inquire about one, if you notice any changes in cognitive functioning or have withstood a brain injury. However, you will also want to schedule one if your neuropsychologist recommends one as a follow-up.

If you have a child, their teacher may be able to offer assistance and guidance on when you should inquire about a neuropsychological assessment. For example, teachers are often one of the first to notice the signs of ADHD in a child, as they know how children act in a classroom and how ADHD can modify behavior in children.


How to Prepare for a Neuropsychological Assessment?

When you show up for a neuropsychological assessment, you will want to make sure that you bring a current list of your medications and dosages and any visual or hearing aids that you may need. You will also want to eat beforehand. These tests can last many hours, and while you will often break for lunch if needed, you will otherwise spend your time in the assessment.

Try to avoid any medications that cause drowsiness, if possible, as this may affect your assessment results and make the process of completing the assessment more difficult.


Final Remarks

A neuropsychological assessment is a valuable tool used to diagnose and identify neurological disorders and the extent of injuries to the brain. It also allows a neuropsychologist to evaluate an individual’s cognitive and behavioral function. Through this assessment, they can assess the individual’s strengths and weaknesses in order to come to a diagnosis. Neuropsychological assessments are also instrumental in creating treatment plans.

It is important to schedule a neuropsychological assessment if there are any signs of changes in cognitive functioning or if someone has recently suffered a brain injury. Taking this first step is instrumental in receiving a proper diagnosis and crafting a beneficial treatment plan. However, a neuropsychologist may also want to complete a follow-up neuropsychological assessment in order to see how effective treatment was or how things might have changed with time.

Written by Richard D. Abbey, Ph.D.

Dr. Abbey is a licensed clinical neuropsychologist. He provides neuropsychological evaluations for infants, children, and adults. He is the director of neuropsychological services and is involved in every case in his clinic. His research focuses on learning disorders, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and the neurocognitive effects of cancer treatments.

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