What is the purpose of neuropsychological testing?
The purpose of testing is to understand how the different networks in the brain are functioning. While an image of a brain (e.g., MRI) can provide important information about the integrity of brain structures, more subtle, functional, or early stage problems are not detected by most imaging.
Neuropsychological testing reveals the functional status of the different brain networks, and the neuropsychologist can explain how this status would effect an individual in daily life situations, diagnose a condition if appropriate, and make recommendations for intervention and/or accommodation for any problem areas. Sometimes, repeating testing after a certain period of time is needed to determine if there is a pattern of change within a specific individual or if any abnormalities in test performance reflect a new problem.
Testing is useful for differential diagnosis, monitoring the progression of illness and changing needs in an individual over time, monitoring the effects of interventions to determine if they are working, and for better understanding an individual’s functioning, which varies even within a diagnostic group, in order to better plan interventions and accommodations. Testing identifies areas of strength that can be utilized in skill building and accommodation.
What is tested?
Areas that may be tested include:
- general ability or intelligence
- visual spatial skills
- motor and sensory skills
- executive functioning (e.g., mental control, reasoning, organization, and problem solving)
- academic skills
- vocational interests
Especially in the forensic context but also in the clinical context, there is assessment of the degree to which the patient/examinee is consistently putting forth appropriate effort on tests in order to be sure that the tests are measuring what is expected to be measured.