Neuropsychologist

Written by MaryAnn DePietro | Published on November 20, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on November 20, 2013

What Is a Neuropsychologist?

A neuropsychologist is a physiologist who specializes in understanding the relationship between the physical brain and behavior. The brain is extremely complex, and disorders within the brain or nervous system can alter behavior and cognitive function.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, the role of a neuropsychologist is to understand how brain structures and systems relate to behavior and thinking.

Neuropsychologists have a doctorate in psychology and training in neuropsychology. They often work in research or clinical settings.

What Does a Neuropsychologist Do?

Neuropsychologists evaluate and treat people with various types of nervous system disorders. They work closely with doctors, including neurologists.

Illnesses, injuries, and diseases of the brain and nervous system can affect the way a person feels, thinks, and behaves. Symptoms that may call for a neuropsychologist include:

  • memory difficulties
  • mood disturbances
  • learning difficulties
  • nervous system dysfunction

If other doctors can’t identify the cause of a condition, a neuropsychologist can help determine a diagnosis. If a diagnosis is already known, an assessment can still be helpful.

A neuropsychologist can help determine what impairments you might have and how severe they are. Examples of conditions they evaluate and treat are:

  • Stroke. A stroke can affect behavior, thinking, memory, and other brain functions. Some changes are obvious; some are subtle. An evaluation helps determine the degree of stroke impairment.
  • Parkinson’s disease. This type of progressive disorder can cause several neurological problems. A neuropsychologist’s exam can provide a baseline in order to determine disease progression and decreased function. 
  • Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia can interfere with memory, personality, and cognitive abilities. An exam may be able to identify Alzheimer’s in its early stages.
  • Traumatic brain injuries. Injuries to the brain can cause a wide variety of symptoms. A neuropsychologist can help determine how an injury affects functions like reasoning or problem solving skills.  
  • Learning disabilities. There are many types of learning disabilities. A neuropsychologist can help determine the type of learning disorder in order to develop a treatment plan.

Typical Neuropsychological Procedures

The nervous system is complex, so different types of procedures are used to identify problems and treatment plans. Typical procedures include:

Neuropsychological Evaluation

This evaluation is an assessment of how your brain functions. The evaluation will include an interview. Questions will ascertain your ability to perform daily tasks, as well as identify memory issues, and mental health concerns. The interview will also cover information on symptoms, medical history, and medications you take.

Tests

An evaluation includes different types of standardized tests. The tests measure many areas of brain function, including memory and cognitive ability. Tests may also measure personality, problem solving, and reasoning. Tests will also assess emotions and personality.

Brain Scans

Brain scans, such as computerized tomography scans (CT scans) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can help a neuropsychologist make a diagnosis.

Neuropsychological Procedure Results

A neuropsychologist compares your test scores with those of other people who are similar in education and age.

Evaluation and test results may help determine the cause of a problem when other methods don’t work. Mild thinking and memory problems may be subtle, but tests can identify even mild problems with memory and cognitive abilities.

Neuropsychologists help develop a treatment plan by understanding how the brain functions and how functioning relates to behavior. Treatment plans may include medication, rehabilitation therapy, or surgery.

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