Neuropsychological Testing
for Determining the Extent and Possible Causes of Memory Loss

By M. Chris Wolf, PH.D.

Why is neuropsychological testing important? When a family member starts to notice a loved seems to be more forgetful than usual, it is common to make jokes about the absent-mindedness just being one of the signs of getting older. While this is often the case, there are red flags the memory loss the family member experiences might be the result of the start of a disease process. Such warning signs include the following:increased frustration with not being able to recall words or locate belongings; forgetting to close exterior doors or turning off appliances; forgetting where they are going or the inability to recognize their surroundings. These symptoms are significant because they can potential interfere with the individual's ability to act independently. If a family member starts showing these signs, it is time to seek medical advice.

Neuropsychological examinations are clinically indicated and medically necessary when patients display signs and symptoms of intellectual compromise, and cognitive and/or neurobehavioral dysfunction that involve, but are not restricted to, memory deficits, language disorders, learning disorders, developmental disabilities, pervasive developmental disorders, impairment of organization and planning, and perceptual abnormalities.

The Referral for Testing

After an examination by the individual's primary care physician, it is common for a person experiencing significant memory loss to receive a referral for neuropsychological assessment. This type of evaluation is non-invasive and can actually be fun as many neuropsychological instruments involve puzzles, concentration games, and drawing pictures. These standardized neuropsychological assessment batteries are designed to assess long-term memory, short-term memory, verbal memory, spatial abilities and sensorimotor skills.

What to Expect

The neuropsychologist typically interviews both the person experiencing the memory loss along with family member to determine the progression of the memory loss and the effects of the memory loss on the everyday activities of the person. After the interview, either the neuropsychologist or a specially trained psychometrist will administer the neuropsychological testing battery. Tests commonly used by neuropsychologists include the following: the Neuropsychological Assessment Battery (NAB), which involves tests of memory, attention, problem-solving, etc., the Bender-Gestalt Test, which involves drawing various patterns and the Memory and Executive Function sections of either the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales-Revised or the Woodcock Johnston Tests of Cognitive Abilities. Other types of neuropsychological testing might be administered based on the symptoms and concerns described by the referring physician, the person or family members.

The Results and Next Steps

Typically, the results of the neuropsychological evaluation are not available on the day of the testing as the neuropsychologist must score and interpret each test. Usually the neuropsychologist schedules a follow-up appointment with the person and the family members about 14 days from the day of testing. At this appointment, the neuropsychologist discusses the test results, the diagnosis (or the need for further neurological testing), the prognosis, options for rehabilitation and referrals to treatment providers. The report of the test results is sent to the referring physician. Neuropsychological testing provides the person experiencing memory loss, their family, and treatment providers a roadmap for a path for rehabilitation and care.

Improve My Memory

Also visit Memory Test

What are Cognitive Disorders?

For more information about Neuropsychological Testing consider these resources:

Brain Health and Memory Improvement

Essentials of Neuropsychological Assessment by Nancy Hebben and William Milberg

Neuropsychological Assessment of Dementia and Depression in Older Adults: A Clinician's Guide by Martha Storandt (Author, Editor) and Gary R. Vandenbos


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