Usually a neuropsychological evaluation is requested because an individual or their family has become concerned about changes in memory, thinking or functional skills. This sometimes raises the question of whether such changes are indicative of early signs of a dementia process involving a progressive decline in memory or other cognitive abilities. This can be a scary thing to consider.
It can help to have some idea about what to expect during a neuropsychological evaluation and to know how it might be helpful to you. What follows is an overview of the process that might make it less mysterious, less daunting, and maybe even something to look forward to.
Why do a neuropsychological evaluation?
A neuropsychological evaluation is usually requested by an attending physician to answer a specific question or questions in order to guide plans for the person’s medical care. Such questions may include:
- Are there changes in memory and thinking that the individual or family should be concerned about?
- Has the person’s memory and thinking ability declined from their baseline?
- What reasons other than dementia might there be for these changes?
- Is there anything that might be done to slow or in some case reverse the changes?
- What kind of care or assistance does the person require?
What does a neuropsychological evaluation process usually involve?
If you have been scheduled for an evaluation, you may expect the following:
- An interview with a neuropsychologist in which they review the history of the memory concerns.
- Standardized testing of memory and other cognitive skills administered by the neuropsychologist and/or a technician. (This does not involve invasive techniques such as needles!) The testing involves answering questions, doing problem solving tasks, and performance of hands-on skills.
- A review by the neuropsychologist of available medical records.
- A feedback session in which findings and recommendations are explained.
How long does a neuropsychological evaluation take?
This can vary considerably. What follows is an overview of the typical time frame:
- The first appointment usually involves an appointment lasting a full morning or full afternoon (up to four hours) including interview and testing.
- The second appointment is typically a feedback session which is scheduled for a one-hour appointment slot but could be shorter or longer depending on the circumstances.
- The summary report is usually completed within one to three weeks following the feedback session.
Who should be involved in the appointments?
- If you are an independently functioning adult, you should expect to come to the first appointment alone or with one other supportive family member such as a spouse or an adult child.
- If other family members are involved in your care, it is typically best to have them come to the feedback session rather than the initial appointment.
How should I prepare for the assessment?
There is no way to study for a neuropsychological evaluation, but the following preparation is recommended:
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before.
- Eat a healthy breakfast or lunch before the appointment.
- Avoid any non-prescription substances that would have mind-altering effects that might invalidate the results.
- Bring glasses and hearing aids with you.
- Bring a light snack. Water will be provided.
- Bring a current list of medications.
- If a family member is accompanying you to the appointment, they should bring something to occupy themselves in the waiting area.
What kind of recommendations might result?
A summary report will be sent to your doctor and to you and/or a family member and might include one or more of the following recommendations:
- A medical consultation by a neurologist, sleep specialist, or other medical specialist.
- A brain imaging study such as an MRI, if not already done.
- A discussion with primary care doctor regarding treatment of depression.
- Counseling to address situational stress, anxiety, or depression.
- A discussion with primary care doctor regarding medication to slow progression of memory loss.
- Repeat testing after a year or more to determine if a progressive decline is taking place over time.
- Additional supports provided by family or community such as medication reminders, assistance with meals, or additional check-in support.
Hopefully, this brief summary helps you know what to expect. If you have additional questions, feel free to call the Pine Rest Psychological Consultation Center office at 616.281.6311.
Mark DeVries, PhD, works at the Pine Rest Psychological Consultation Center. Dr. DeVries is a licensed psychologist who provides neuropsychological evaluations with a focus on early detection of dementia in adults and older adults. Dr. DeVries also provides neuropsychological evaluations of adults with history of brain injury and other medical and/or neurological disorders.
Dr. DeVries earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Calvin College, a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Western Michigan University, and a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the Fuller Theological Seminary School of Psychology