Neuropsychological Assessment: What is it and When is it Needed?
At SOG, we connect our clients to specialists for objective, clinical medical reporting.
One of the many assessments that can be taken is a neuropsychological assessment which focuses on the relationship between cognitive function and brain behaviour. In his article, our consultant forensic psychologist, Mr Greg Fathers, takes us through the difference between psychological, neuropsychological and forensic neuropsychological assessments; what they involve, and when these assessments should be performed.
What is neuropsychological assessment?
A neuropsychological assessment aims to assess an individual’s strengths and weaknesses in brain and cognitive functioning. Cognitive functioning refers to activities such as thinking and reasoning. Brain and cognitive function are evaluated by objectively testing memory and thinking skills using valid, standardised tests. In this way neuropsychological assessments may help to understand how the different areas and systems of the brain are functioning.
How does a neuropsychological assessment differ form a psychological assessment?
A neuropsychological evaluation involves the administration of various tests of cognitive, motor, and perceptual skills that are sensitive to changes and problems in brain functioning. It differs from a standard psychological assessment, which typically evaluates general cognitive and personality functioning and which is intended to diagnose psychological conditions.
Unlike CT or MRI brain imaging, which show what the structure of the brain looks like, neuropsychological testing examines how efficiently the brain is working when it performs certain functions; for example, remembering or speaking.
Neuropsychological evaluation may involve assessment of the following:
Higher level executive skills (e.g. problem solving, reasoning)
Attention and concentration
Learning and memory
Motor and sensory skills
Mood and personality
Forensic neuropsychological assessment
A forensic neuropsychological assessment differs in that it is a cognitive and psychological assessment done within a legal context. In its most basic sense, forensic neuropsychology is characterized as the presentation of neuropsychological evidence to address legal questions. The roles and requirements are quite different from the psychologist as treatment provider. Forensic neuropsychology typically is applied in cases involving worker’s compensation, disability determinations, personal injury and impaired professional fitness for duty, competency, and other cases involving adversarial administrative and judicial determinations.
The primary responsibility in a forensic neuropsychological assessment is to provide information based on scientifically-validated neuropsychological principles and clinical methodology to determine not just whether the patient has some neuropsychological dysfunction but whether the dysfunction results from the event under consideration.
The forensic psychologist utilises a methodology that has been scientifically-validated on brain-impaired individuals and can distinguish various brain conditions from each other as well as from normal variation. The methodology applied must be able to determine whether any dysfunction found is, in fact, the result of a neurological condition as opposed to non-neurological, psychological, or factitious disorders. Symptom validity testing should be typically included in the test administration.
Neuropsychological testing is usually recommended when symptoms or problems with memory or thinking manifest. These symptoms may be due to changes in concentration, organisation, reasoning, memory, language, perception, coordination or personality. Such changes may be due to a number of causes, including those of a medical, genetic and psychological sort.
A neuropsychological evaluation usually consists of an interview and testing. During the interview information is gathered about symptoms, medical history, medications and other important information. It goes beyond mere self-report.
Testing may comprise answering questions, completing paper and pencil exercises and/or computer based tests. Some tests may be easy, while others may be more challenging or complex.
The time it takes to complete the assessment will depend on the tests being used. A standard test administration usually takes three to five hours but may take up to eight hours, depending on the client, usually in the one session.
By Mr. Greg Fathers
BA MA (Psych), MBus, MCogSci, MAPS
Consultant Forensic Psychologist
Our knowledgeable and supportive staff have a complete overview of assessment processes – from making appointments to the appropriate practitioner through to updates of reports, and beyond. If you require a neuropsychological assessment or would like to know more information, please contact us. Mr Greg Fathers’ CV is available upon request.
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