One key to understanding epilepsy lies with the neuropsychologist (nur-o-sy-KOL-o-jist), a doctor that specializes in the study and practice of neuropsychology (nur-o-sy-KOL-o-jee). Neuropsychology focuses on the relationship between the central nervous system (the brain or spinal cord) and mental functions such as language, memory, perception, and attention.

  • A neuropsychologist is a "Ph.D." or a "Psy.D." - who has gone through general training in psychology as well as specific training in neuropsychology and has a doctoral degree. Neuropsychologists usually work in hospitals, in centers that focus on one disorder, or in their own private practice.
  • They may evaluate how your brain is working, perform research to understand the brain better, or treat people whose nervous system has been injured by a disease, disorder, or accident.
  • Neuropsychologists are interested in how seizures affect the way a person with epilepsy thinks and remembers. They are involved in neuropsychological testing and special procedures like brain mapping or the Wada test (also known as the intracarotid sodium amobarbital procedure).

What are neuropsychological tests?

During a neuropsychological evaluation, you take a series of tests. These tests are not like the ones you may have taken in school; there is no pass or fail.

  • Neuropsychological tests look at the brain's ability to carry out a function (such as language, memory, perception, or attention). Different tests measure different functions. Each function is linked to a specific area of the brain.
  • If you do well overall, but do poorly on a few tests that measure the same function, the neuropsychologist knows which area of your brain is not working properly. That area may be where seizures are coming from.

What are the tests like?

  • An evaluation may be brief or may last several hours. A 'comlete' neuropyschology test may take 4 to 8 hours of testing. The testing may be done all at once or broken down into smaller chunks of time. 
  • Some tests may seem easy and others may be hard. Usually, both easy and hard tests are given to see how you do on different levels.
  • Some of the tests will be timed; others will not.
  • Some tests may ask you to think in a way that you are not used to thinking, or do things that you haven't done in a long time.

What will the test results show?

  • Once the evaluation is complete, the neuropsychologist will examine the results. The results of your tests are compared with the results of people the same age who have a similar background.
  • If you've been tested before, the neuropsychologist will compare the new results with your results on earlier tests.
  • The neuropsychologist then writes a report. If the results show that one area of your brain is not functioning normally, the report will say that. The report may include recommendations for further treatment, for job retraining, or for retesting at a later date.

How can I get ready for my appointment?

If you have an appointment with a neuropsychologist, check out our neuropsychological testing tips to learn more about what to expect and how to prepare for your visit.

 

Authored by: Steven C. Schachter, MD
Reviewed by: Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN on 7/2013
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