Neuropsychological testing can help your doctor find out how a problem with your brain is affecting your ability to reason, concentrate, solve problems, or remember.
Doctors use a wide variety of tests for neuropsychological testing. In most cases you will take a series of tests, rather than a single test.
This type of testing is most often done by a psychologist with special training in this area.
Why It Is Done
This testing gives your doctor an overall picture of how well your brain works. Your doctor can use the results to decide the best treatment or rehabilitation program for you.
Your doctor may recommend this testing if:
- You have a disease that can affect the brain, such as:
- Alzheimer's disease or other dementia.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Brain tumor.
- Parkinson's disease.
- You have an injury that may have affected your brain, such as a concussion or a more serious brain injury.
- You have a history of substance use disorder that may have affected your brain.
- You have been exposed to poisons, chemicals, or pollution that can cause brain damage.
- You have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or problems in school.
- Your doctor wants to see how well treatment for one of these diseases, conditions, or injuries is working.
How To Prepare
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean.
Make sure you eat first and are well rested so that being tired or hungry doesn't affect testing.
Remember to bring your glasses or hearing aids if you use them.
How It Is Done
There are many kinds of neuropsychological tests. The ones you take will depend on the particular brain functions that your doctor wants to check.
The tests are meant to test your limits, so don't be discouraged if they seem hard.
It may take several hours to take all the tests. But you may not have to take all of them at once.
Most of the tests involve answering questions or performing tasks. You may be taking some of the tests on a computer, using pencil and paper, or using other objects. Here are some examples of brain functions and some tests that check them:
Tests for attention span and memory
You might be asked to:
- Repeat a series of numbers, letters, or words.
- Look at some simple drawings and then draw them from memory.
Tests for language and speech skills
You might be asked to:
- Name pictures that the examiner shows you.
- Point to a picture named by the examiner.
- Name as many words as you can think of that begin with a certain letter or are in a certain category (for example, animals or fruits).
Test for reasoning, planning, and organizing skills
You might be asked to:
- Sort cards according to colors or shapes on the cards.
- Use a pencil to connect a series of numbered or lettered dots on a sheet of paper.
- Stack colored discs in a certain pattern.
How It Feels
You might feel nervous if you know your ability to think is being judged by the person giving you the tests. The tests are meant to test your limits, so don't be discouraged if they seem hard.
You may get tired, because the tests can take several hours.
If you are being checked for a health condition, such as Alzheimer's disease, you may be afraid of what the tests will show.
Your doctor may not be able to find the cause of your symptoms, because some problems are hard to diagnose. Also, other tests may be needed to accurately diagnose your problem.
Test results give your doctor an overall picture of how well you are able to think, reason, and remember. Your doctor may discuss some results with you right away. Complete results may not be available for several weeks.
The results of the test may help determine when an athlete who has had a concussion can return to play. Testing can also identify mood or emotional problems.
Many conditions can change the results of a neuropsychological test. For example, depression can slow your thinking. But your doctor will consider your other symptoms when looking at the test results.
What Affects the Test
You may not be able to have the tests or the results may not be helpful if:
- You aren't able to cooperate with and trust your doctor.
- You don't make your best effort to do well on the tests.
- You are in too much pain to do your best.
- You use certain medicines, alcohol, or illegal drugs.
- The test is not written or given in a language that you can read, write, or understand.
What To Think About
This type of testing can cost $1,000 or more, and your insurance may not cover it.
Testing can answer questions you may have about your future, such as:
- Can I live alone?
- Is it safe for me to drive?
- Do I need to change jobs?
Another type of psychological testing is mental health assessment. It focuses more on your emotions and behavior, while neuropsychological testing focuses more on your ability to think, reason, and remember. To learn more, see the topic Mental Health Assessment.
Other Works Consulted
- Sadock BJ, Sadock VA (2007). Clinical neuropsychological testing. In Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry, 10th ed., pp. 178–189. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Current as of: January 31, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Christine R. Maldonado PhD - Behavioral Health