One of the health-care specialties in the clinical neurosciences, Neuropsychology is the study of the understanding and diagnosis of changes in thinking and behavior after known or suspected brain damage. More simply, it is the scientific study of the relationship between the brain and how we act, think, and feel. Neuropsychology is the functional combination of two specific health disciplines: neurology and psychology. Using the computer as an analogy neurology is the scientific practice of the assessment and treatment of the “hardware” of the brain, which is comprised of the brain and the spinal cord of the body. Psychology on the other hand is the scientific practice of the assessment and treatment of the “software” or “programming” of the brain. Much like a specialist who is called in to assess a computer problem, a neuropsychologist is knowledgeable of both the hardware and the software, the neurology and the psychology, of human beings. Knowing that “breakdowns” in either domain can cause a disruption in behavior, it is essential that both areas be competently assessed.
Neuropsychological assessments typically comprises an evaluation of the basic dimensions of cognitive and behavioral functioning. These are: Orientation; Attentional Capacity and Higher-Order Attention; New-Learning and Memory; Intellectual Functioning; Language Functioning: (Production, Understanding); Visuospatial, Visuoperceptive, and Visuoconstructive Functioning; Sensorimotor Functioning; Executive Functioning; and Personality/Emotional Functioning. Assessment is accomplished through the use of standardized paper-pencil and computerized tests which have been “normed” on an age, education, and gender matched control group. Through the analysis and interpretation of the patient’s clinical presentation, test scores, medical records, and overall profile an assessment can be made regarding the patient’s organic brain condition. The results of the assessment are then utilized to develop an appropriate and effective rehabilitation program tailored to address the patient’s specific needs.
Identifying the nature of brain-behavior abnormalities relative to “normal” functioning, understanding the consequences of these changes in the daily life of the individual, and contributing to effective and cost-efficient treatment and management of affected patients are basic goals of a neuropsychological consultation.