What is a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

What is a Neuropsychological Evaluation?
Sara Clemente

Written and verified by psychologist and journalist Sara Clemente.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Neuropsychological or cognitive evaluation is a diagnostic method designed specifically to explore people’s cognitive function. It provides valuable information that might not show up in other kinds of studies. As such, healthcare providers use it as a complement to neuroimaging or radiology.

Neuropsychological evaluation allows us to study the activity and function of cognitive brain systems by exploring higher-level abilities. That’s why healthcare providers use this evaluation in patients with brain damage. It can help them figure out the extent of the intellectual damage. They also use it with people who want to keep tabs on their mental function.

Kinds of neuropsychological evaluation

No two patients are alike. That’s why it’s so important that the neuropsychological evaluation be flexible. It has to be adapted to each clinical case.

Cognitive evaluation

The main goal of cognitive evaluation is to analyze a person’s attention span, memory, language, and executive functions. Executive functions include planning, prevention, control, supervision, and organization. To do that, psychologists use standardized tests that register quantitative and qualitative information.

A puzzle piece in the brain representing neuropsychological evaluation.

The patient’s attitude towards the test and execution of the test is equally or more important than the results. To evaluate someone with brain damage, their numerical score matters. However, it’s just as important for a professional to observe and evaluate the patient as they’re taking the test.

In most cases, information from family members is crucial. That’s because sometimes people with psychological problems aren’t aware that their intellectual capacity is different. So, information from close relatives and friends is essential for an accurate evaluation.

Executive function and social cognition

This type of neuropsychological evaluation is very common for children. It consists of a series of neuropsychological tasks that measure maturity level and cognitive performance. These tests look at inhibition control as well as multi-tasking and social skills. The end goal is the adaptation of interpersonal strategies that the children use day-to-day.

One of the most common tests for Spanish speakers is BANFE (Neuropsychological Battery of the Executive Functions and Frontal Lobes). It evaluates executive functions using 15 processes. They’re grouped into three specific cerebral areas: orbitomedial, anterior prefrontal, and dorsolateral. The main advantage of this test is that it provides a global score and one specific to each region.

Visual-spatial functions

Visual-spatial functions are very useful in our day-to-day lives. They allow us to represent, analyze, and manipulate objects with our minds. Without them, it would be impossible to pour water into a glass without overflowing it, for example.

What can seem like an eyesight problem at first can actually have more to do with brain function. They relate to later stage information processing. In other words, processing basic information related to the association areas of the cerebral cortex.

The most common tool for this kind of evaluation is Poppelreuter tests. These tests consist of a series of figures that are superimposed and overlapping each other. The Luria-Nebraska Neuropsychological Battery is also very common.

As you can see, neuropsychological evaluation measures a variety of things. Among them are general intellectual ability, language, personality, temperament, attention span, memory, and other high-level skills. Experts analyze some abilities more than others depending on the patients’ needs. 

Man's head shattering into pieces.

A neuropsychological evaluation can be crucial for making a proper diagnosis

Neuropsychological evaluation has many applications and uses. One of those is to identify what areas or intellectual functions have been altered. For example, it helps identify disorders or memory problems that would be impossible to detect otherwise.

In fact, many times the neuropsychological battery is the only professional tool that can lead to an early detection of some pathologies. As such, they’re important for diagnosing Alzheimer’sThey can also help identify attention issues related to diabetes or alcoholism.

They also allow doctors to differentiate between possible diagnoses with the same clinical profile. In other words, neuropsychological evaluation is key for differentiating between illnesses. It can help determine the reason for a patient’s cognitive changes. For example, whether a stroke or deep depression is causing the alterations.

However, it’s important not to confuse neuropsychological evaluation with simply taking neuropsychological tests or quizzes. It’s much more than that. Administering tests and quizzes is just one phase of this type of evaluation.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.