Neuropsychological evaluations: What are they for and how are they performed after injury or serious illness?

Chris talking with Therapist in front of board

The brain is an intricate network of billions of neurons. Each region plays a crucial role in memory, attention, language and more. These regions work together to control a person’s movements, thoughts, emotions and every other function. After an injury or serious illness, the brain may experience difficulties and not work properly. A neuropsychological evaluation can be a valuable tool to determine what is going on so a neuropsychologist can develop a treatment plan to help address issues. 

Why do a neuropsychological evaluation after injury or serious illness?

For example, say a person has recently recovered from a concussion after a sports accident. They may feel physically better but still struggle with remembering plays or focusing. A neuropsychological evaluation can unveil these hidden effects, providing valuable information for several reasons:

  • Identifying cognitive deficits — The evaluation can pinpoint areas where a person’s brain function may be impacted. It could reveal challenges, such as having to process information quickly or difficulty with planning and organizing tasks. 
  • Understanding recovery progress — If someone has undergone treatment for a serious illness like a stroke or brain tumor, a neuropsychological evaluation can track their cognitive recovery. By comparing their results over time, their doctors can assess how effective their treatment is and identify areas that may need additional support.
  • Developing a treatment plan — Based on a person’s evaluation results, a therapist can create targeted interventions to improve specific cognitive functions. These may include memory exercises, attention training or strategies to help them be better organized.
  • Facilitating a return to daily life — The evaluation can help predict how well someone may adjust to daily activities after an injury or illness. This information can be essential to plan a rehabilitation program. It can also help them and their loved ones make informed decisions about returning to work or school. 

How does a neuropsychological evaluation work?

The process for how an evaluation works can include:

  • Background information gathering — The evaluation will begin with the neuropsychologist gathering information. This may include asking questions about the patient’s medical history, education and daily life. This can help the neuropsychologist understand their baseline cognitive functioning and identify any potential preexisting conditions. 
  • Standardized testing — The next step involves the neuropsychologist administering a series of standardized tests. These tests can assess different cognitive areas and can include:
  • Memory tests — These tests may involve recalling a list of words or remembering details from a short story.
  • Attention tests — The patient may be asked to identify specific patterns within a series of shapes or focus on a specific sound amid distractions. 
  • Language tests — The neuropsychologist may ask the patient to complete tasks like naming objects or explaining proverbs.
  • Executive function tests — These tests can evaluate the patient’s ability to plan, organize, and solve problems. They may be asked to sort objects or complete tasks in a certain order. 
  • Motor skills tests — These tests can evaluate their fine motor skills, which are essential to do everyday tasks. The patient may be asked to do tests that can test their speed, dexterity, hand-eye coordination and accuracy. Test administrators may also observe them doing tasks like writing, drawing or manipulating objects. 
  • Behavioral observations — The neuropsychologist won’t just rely on tests. During the evaluation, they will also observe the patient’s behavior, looking at things like their focus, effort and problem-solving approach. 

Some people find these tests to be easy, and others find them to be difficult. People aren’t expected to do everything perfectly. No one fails these tests. The point of this evaluation is to help identify an individual’s personal strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to work as hard as possible and do their best so that the results are accurate and helpful. 

Neuropsychological evaluations can take several hours to complete, and the patient may be tired or overstimulated afterward. 

Interpreting the results

Once all the information is gathered, the neuropsychologist will review it, comparing the results to standardized data for the patient’s age and background. This can help identify places where the results fall outside of the expected range. These results are about helping to identify the patient’s unique cognitive profile and areas that may need improvement. These results will help the neuropsychologist recommend any further evaluations or begin to create an individualized treatment plan. 

How a neuropsychological evaluation can support a person’s journey to recovery

A neuropsychological evaluation can be a valuable tool for guiding a person’s recovery journey by:

  • Providing a baseline to track progress and effectiveness of treatment interventions
  • Empowering them to understand their strengths and weaknesses, return to daily life, and explore strategies to manage potential challenges
  • Facilitating communication between their neuropsychologist, their healthcare team, other support systems and themselves to make sure everyone is on the same page

Ability KC can help people take control of their recovery from a serious illness or injury with a neuropsychological evaluation

At Ability KC, we understand the emotional challenges that can accompany cognitive difficulties after a serious illness or injury. Our track record speaks for itself with our comprehensive neuropsychological services. The majority of our neuropsychology patients find their evaluations beneficial and recommend the services to others. Taking a proactive approach with a neuropsychological evaluation is an investment in the cognitive health of your loved one on their road to recovery. By working with our qualified neuropsychology team, you can help your loved one to become empowered to navigate current challenges with confidence to unlock their brain’s full potential again.

Ability KC is a designated Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facility (CORF) with a Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) accreditation. Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.