What to Know About Neuropsychological Testing for Dementia Patients

What to Know About Neuropsychological Testing for Dementia Patients

Signs of dementia, Dementia

Dementia is a term describing when a person demonstrates problems with memory and other thinking skills. Dementia may also impact patients’ ability to care for themselves, and it may affect emotional and behavioral functioning.  There are many reasons why a person may demonstrate signs of dementia, including:

  • Progressive changes in brain structure and function. Conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, and dementias associated with other neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and other disorders.
  • Infections potentially impacting the brain. HIV, meningitis, etc.
  • Damage to blood vessels in the brain/interruption of blood flow to the brain.  Vascular dementia (dementia associated with strokes), cardiac arrest, or near drowning.
  • Toxic effects of substances. Alcohol dementia, toxic effects of drugs, side effects of medications.

The interventions that may be helpful to a dementia patient differ depending upon the underlying cause of the symptoms. Physicians who treat individuals demonstrating symptoms of dementia may recommend a neuropsychological evaluation to assist in determining the type and severity of symptoms and to assist in diagnosing the underlying cause of the dementia symptoms. Here is some helpful information about neuropsychological testing for dementia patients.

Doctors order neuropsychological evaluations to see how the patient’s brain is affected by the disease. The results of a neuropsychological evaluation show how well the patient can perform a variety of mental skills, including attention and concentration, learning and memory, language, visuospatial processing, problem-solving, sensory and motor skills, day-to-day/adaptive skills, and emotional functioning. These results provide information about how the patient’s brain is functioning.

Neuropsychological tests are meant to test the patient’s limits. Neuropsychological tests are designed to find the limits of the patient’s abilities in multiple areas.  As a consequence, they are not designed so the patient can get all of the questions right. Rather the tests take the patient through a series of tasks designed to find out just how far he or she can go.

Neuropsychological assessments help doctors learn more about the causes of dementia. The pattern of performance the individual demonstrates on testing can often be helpful in determining the underlying cause of the symptoms, which may have an impact upon decisions regarding recommended treatment. The results of testing assist doctors in understanding the causes and effects of the condition, as well as helping patients and their families identify areas where assistance is likely to be required now and in the future.

Some neuropsychological test results are immediate; other results take time.  Some of the results from testing can be shared right after testing; however, others take more time and analysis. It’s not unusual to wait a few weeks for complete results and for your doctor to receive a report of findings.

You must be at your best emotionally and physically for the test. For a neuropsychological evaluation to be helpful, the patient must be in a position to provide his or her best effort.  A good night’s sleep and a good breakfast are recommended before testing. Patients are also asked to abstain from the use of alcohol or other intoxicating substances prior to testing. Medications should be taken as prescribed unless the neuropsychologist or a physician advises otherwise.  Patients should reschedule if they are ill.

Measuring a thing does not bring it into existence; it brings it into clarity. It can be frightening contemplating the possibility that you or a loved one is demonstrating signs of dementia. Many individuals who are experiencing changes in their thinking skills or are seeing these changes in someone they love are fearful of seeking evaluation because of the potential impact dementia can have on current and future independence. However, the treatments for many dementias are most effective when the condition is accurately diagnosed, and treatment is initiated as early as possible.  The sooner doctors understand the type and extent of difficulties the patient is having, the better they can provide treatment and interventions to preserve independence and functioning.

Doctors often want patients demonstrating signs of dementia to have a neuropsychological evaluation to assist with arriving at the most accurate diagnosis. Neuropsychological testing for dementia patients is an important part of understanding how their condition is impacting brain function. It also allows doctors to recommend the most effective treatments and interventions. Perhaps most importantly, testing allows patients and their families to plan for how to meet their needs now and in the future.

Sources:

“Types of Dementia.” www.webmd.com. Web. 5 October 2015. http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/alzheimers-dementia

“Neuropsychological Tests.” www.webmd.com. Web. 28 September 2015. <http://www.webmd.com/brain/neuropsychological-tests>.

Salmon, David P. “Neuropsychological Assessment of Dementia” www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. 4 May 2010. Web. 5 October 2015. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2864104/>