What is Clinical Neuropsychology?
Clinical Neuropsychologists have training in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the brain.
Clinical Neuropsychologists are trained to assist with diagnosis and treatment planning in a range of complex conditions, including;
- Developmental Disorders (Attention Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder, learning and language disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorders)
- Acquired Brain Injury (traumatic brain injuries from motor vehicle accidents, falls and assaults, tumors, epilepsy)
- Neurodegenerative Disorders (Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy Bodies disease, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis)
- Vascular Disorders (stroke, Vascular Dementias)
- Psychiatric Disorders (Bi-polar, Schizophrenia, Anxiety and Depression)
- Substance Abuse (drug/alcohol related brain damage)
- Forensic (legal) Assessments
Brain dysfunction is often considered an invisible disability as individuals may have no physical signs of injury, but have reduced functioning because of their cognitive impairments. This can have a significant impact on returning to work or study, and maintaining personal relationships.
Clinical Neuropsychologists have scientifically validated tools for assessing and understanding the real life manifestations of brain dysfunction.
Whilst neuroimaging (MRI and PET) can show structure and function of the brain, only Clinical Neuropsychologists can integrate medical, personal and psychological factors into a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s overall cognition and quality of life.
When is a Clinical Neuropsychologist needed?
A neuropsychological assessment can:
- Confirm or clarify a diagnosis.
- Provide a profile of strengths and weaknesses to guide rehabilitation, educational, vocational, or other services.
- Document changes in functioning since prior examinations, including effects of treatment.
- Clarify what compensatory strategies may be useful.
- Determine appropriate referrals to other specialists, such as educational psychologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists or social workers.
Examples of referral questions:
- Learning and development: Does this patient have a developmental disorder affecting learning? If so, how can we help to circumvent these weaknesses and provide the best learning environment for success?
- Traumatic brain injury: What are the enduring effects of an injury and what treatment might help? (When problems are very mild, testing may be the only way to detect them).
- For legal purposes: are an individual’s cognitive problems the consequence of some kind of accident?
- Memory and aging: Is this normal age-related change or a disease?
- Changes in personality and behavior: Are these symptoms of a psychiatric disorder or do they signify a brain-related syndrome?
What happens during a neuropsychological assessment?
The neuropsychological evaluation will commence with a clinical interview to gather relevant historical information. Further information is obtained through reviewing medical and other records or reports. With the client’s permission, family members may be interviewed and asked to share their perceptions on important aspects of the history and symptoms. The neuropsychological examination typically consists of the administration of standardized tests using oral questions, paper and pencil tasks and the manipulation of materials such as blocks and puzzles. There are no invasive procedures. The Clinical Neuropsychologist may also administer tests and questionnaires pertaining to the client’s mood, behavior, and personality.
Neuropsychological Assessment for Children
A neuropsychological assessment can be useful for:
- Profiling a child’s strengths and weaknesses
- Diagnosis of cognitive impairment
- Identification and treatment planning for children who may be experiencing difficulties with aspects of their cognition including memory, attention, learning, language, executive functioning (including problem solving, planning & organisation etc.)
- Provide a baseline for future comparison of neuropsychological changes over time.
- It can be used to predict possible educational, vocational and social outcomes. This may be important for decisions around school placement or career choices etc.
What does the assessment involve?
- An interview with the child’s primary carer/s to obtain important developmental information and to clarify current concerns.
- A range of activities which may include a child answering questions, remembering stories, looking at pictures, completing puzzles or writing things down.
- Skills examined may include memory, visuo-spatial skills, problem solving, language, concentration, planning and organisation and academic skills.
- The primary carer may be asked to complete some questionnaires and to pass questionnaires to a child’s teacher or aide.
- The primary carer may be asked to complete consent forms for the retrieval of hospital records.
What occurs following the assessment?
- A comprehensive report including recommendations for treatment or future planning will be prepared for the referrer (doctor etc)
- A feedback session will be offered for the primary carer/s to ensure understanding of the findings and recommendations
- In certain circumstances a review assessment in 12-18 months may be recommended