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What Is Neuropsychology?

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To schedule or change an appointment for an evaluation, please contact us by:

Phone: 801-581-2267
Fax: 801-585-3498

Neuropsychology focuses on the relationship between your brain and your behavior. At University of Utah Health, our highly trained neuropsychologists work with patients whose brain may have been affected by an injury such as a concussion or disease such as dementia. Our experts rely on a thorough neuropsychological assessment to help them determine the source of difficulty in thinking, behavior or emotions. 

With that information, our neuropsychologists will then recommend rehabilitation techniques, counseling, and treatment plans. Many patients recover and thrive after a neurologic injury. Our goal is to help you heal and foster an ability mindset, which focuses on what you can do to adapt.

Why Choose University of Utah Health?

Our neuropsychologists are highly regarded in this specialty field. We have years of experience treating people with strokes or traumatic brain injury including high-level athletes with sports-related concussions.

We will warmly welcome you into our offices to meet you, listen to your concerns, and help determine what treatment may benefit you. No other neuropsychologists in the Mountain West region can match our level of expertise.

Neuropsychologist meets with patient

What Does a Neuropsychologist Do?

A neuropsychologist is a psychologist who specializes in the field of brain/behavior relationships. They use a neuropsychological evaluation (otherwise known as an assessment or testing) to help reveal what may be the cause of a patient's cognitive changes, unexplained behavior, or emotional problems. Patients are often referred to a neuropsychologist by a primary care physician after symptoms develop that need further analysis.

Using neuropsychological evaluations, we can better understand your:

  • thinking skills (e.g. memory),
  • mood, and
  • personality.       

Neuropsychologist vs. Neurologist

While the words are similar, a neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in spinal cord, brain, and nerve disorders.

Common Neurological Disorders

The following neurological disorders may be evaluated by neuropsychologists:

  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)A TBI can occur after a patient is in a car accident, a fall, a sports accident, a gunshot wound, or a blow to the head. Symptoms range from headaches to confusion and loss of consciousness. 
  • ConcussionA concussion is a kind of mild TBI that often results from a sports-related injury or impact, but can also occur after a fall or other accident. Even if you have not lost consciousness, you may have sustained a concussion. A concussion may cause temporary changes including memory problems, headaches, nausea, and other symptoms. 
  • StrokeA stroke is defined as the temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain or when a blood vessel bursts in your brain. It can impact your ability to speak, move your body, thinking skills, and other problems.
  • Brain aneurysm—An aneurysm, which is an enlarged artery due to a weakened arterial wall, can burst and bleed into the brain. An extreme headache is a common symptom of this life-threatening event.
  • Cerebral vascular conditions—An arteriovenous malformation (which are tangled blood vessels in the brain) can also rupture resulting in seizures and headaches.
  • Brain tumorsA tumor or neoplasm in the brain is unusual cell growth that may need to be removed by surgery. A tumor may affect your coordination, change your personality, and impact your memory.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)This disease causes nerve damage that leaves some people unable to walk normally, weakens muscles, and causes fatigue. Symptoms may vary widely amongst people.
  • Progressive neurologic conditions—Dementia and pre-dementia are among the other conditions considered by neuropsychologists when patients struggle with memory issues.

Your neuropsychologist will help determine whether a problem such as forgetfulness is related to a neurologic condition or is connected to a psychiatric problem. If the problem is not neuropsychological, you may be referred to another specialist who can help.

Find a Neuropsychology Specialist

What to Expect at Your First Appointment

At your first appointment, you will meet with the neuropsychologist for an initial interview, which may last from 30 minutes to about an hour. A post-doctoral fellow or advanced doctoral student may assist the neuropsychologist during this interview.

The doctor will ask you to describe your:

  • medical history,
  • educational background,
  • social history such as details about your family, work, and hobbies,
  • physical symptoms such as:
    • pain,
    • weakness, or
    • coordination problems, and
  • cognitive challenges such as:
    • difficulties with memory,
    • problem solving,
    • speaking, or
    • attention.
Female patient smiling

Neuropsychological Evaluation

A neuropsychological evaluation will comprehensively quantify or measure your cognitive and emotional status. It is our job to understand more about your feelings and your brain function. 

In our evaluation, we will assess your:

  • attention,
  • processing speed,
  • language,
  • memory,
  • problem solving ability, and
  • emotional symptoms including anxiety and depression.

If your referring provider describes the process as a test, do not be concerned. This is the same thing as an evaluation. Your evaluation may take place the same day you meet with the neuropsychologist or you may be asked to return to the office for test administration. Your evaluation may involve working with a psychometrist — a neuropsychology technician who is highly trained in test administration.

Length of Testing

The length of individual tests varies from a minute to about half an hour, but the full evaluation will take place over several hours on one or two days.

Some tests are timed, some are not — and some have multiple components. 

Types of Assessments

The range of tests includes pencil and paper assessments, computerized tasks and questionnaires, and questions that require a verbal response. You may be asked to: 

  • repeat a list of numbers or words,
  • draw shapes,
  • answer true and false questions about your personality,
  • explain similarities and differences, or
  • solve problems.

The tests you take will depend on your symptoms and condition. All the tests are given and scored in a standardized method. That means your results will be compared to the results of a healthy person with a similar age, background, and education. This will help the neuropsychologist understand your strengths and weaknesses.

How to Prepare

Though the idea of having your thinking and emotions assessed may make you nervous, many patients find the actual process engaging and enjoyable — similar to solving a puzzle. This is not a pass or fail test, but rather an evaluation to reveal how our neuropsychologists or other specialists can help you.

To be ready for the evaluation, our doctors recommend that you:

  • get a good night’s sleep,
  • bring any needed eyeglasses or hearing aides,
  • wear comfortable clothes,
  • bring lunch or money for lunch (if the testing will take place in one day),
  • bring medications (if needed due to the time of day of testing), and
  • invite a family member for support. 

Please note: If a family member accompanies you to the appointment, they are welcome to join you for the clinical interview, but will not be with you during your test administration.

Neuropsychological Disorder Treatments

The treatments recommended by our neuropsychologists will depend on your condition and what the evaluations reveal. You may be referred to another physician or specialist for therapy, counseling, or medication. Our treatments may include:

  • Cognitive rehabilitation—A patient with a memory deficit may receive cognitive rehabilitation, which can help improve retention through mental exercises and behavioral strategies.
  • Medication—In some cases, patients may benefit from cognitive enhancing medication, which is prescribed by a physician.
  • Psychotherapy—For patients with sleep trouble, anxiety, depression, and other emotional concerns, psychotherapy or counseling may be recommended. Some elite athletes benefit from psychotherapy to alleviate problems that are impacting their performance. 
  • Speech therapy—For some patients with a traumatic brain injury, outpatient therapy with a speech-language pathologist can help improve their attention, memory, language, and problem solving.

When to See a Neuropsychologist

You may want to consider seeing a neuropsychologist if you have concerns about your thinking skills such as your:

If you are aging and have a family history of dementia, a neuropsychologist may be able to help provide you with insight on whether your memory issues are normal for your age.

Your doctor may also recommend you see a neuropsychologist to provide baseline information before some surgical procedures such as neurosurgery. An evaluation can also help show whether your cognitive skills are improving or deteriorating over time.

Neurological Symptoms

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may need a neuropsychological evaluation:

  • memory challenges,
  • difficulty solving problems,
  • personality changes,
  • focus/attention issues, and
  • behavior changes.

If your symptoms are significant enough that they are disrupting your daily life such as your work or personal life, you should see a neuropsychologist.

If you are concerned about these symptoms, talk to your primary care provider or specialist about getting a referral to a neuropsychologist for further analysis.

Meet with Our Neuropsychologists

Most of our patients see our neuropsychologists on an outpatient basis. However, some patients are referred while they are in the hospital.

To make an appointment for an evaluation with one of our neuropsychologists, call 801-581-2267. Our referral specialist will work with your current provider to obtain necessary medical records, if needed, and verify your insurance benefits for coverage.