Neuropsychological Tests

Test Overview

Neuropsychological testing can help your doctor find out how damage to 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:

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.

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.

It may take several hours to take all the tests. But you may not have to take all of them at once.

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.

Risks

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.

Results

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.

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.
  • You have trouble reading, writing, or understanding English.

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. For more information, see the topic Mental Health Assessment.

References

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.
  • Weiner MF, Lipton AM, eds. (2003). The Dementias: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Research, 3rd ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised November 29, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Decision Points

Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.

You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:

Interactive Tools

Get started learning more about your health!

Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.

Symptom Checker

Feeling under the weather?

Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.

Symptom Checker