The holiday season is a whirlwind of to-do lists that can present a challenge to anyone’s memory. But from middle age on it can be hard to know what is a normal part of aging and what signals diminished brain function. That’s when a neuropsychological assessment may help.
“Everyone has areas of strengths and weaknesses, and it is typical that some cognitive abilities will become less efficient with age,” said Ashley Watts, PhD, a neuropsychologist with the new Samaritan Neuropsychology clinic in Albany. With a neuropsychological assessment we look at the association between brain function, behavior and thinking, and we can get a better idea of whether you’re operating at the level that is normal for your age.”
Watts notes that normal aging may include some decline in remembering new information and needing to use reminders for things like shopping. However forgetting things you’ve already learned, neglecting self-care and getting lost may signal a more serious impairment.
“With an assessment we can look at your memory, attention, language skills, visual skills and learning to see if there is a problem, and then make a plan for appropriate interventions,” said Watts.
Evaluating areas such as problem solving and attention, and how they interact with your personality and behavior creates a profile that can be compared to normal standards. This helps determine if the brain is functioning normally or if there has been some decline, which can be helpful for diagnosing dementia (such as Alzheimer’s disease), depression and mild cognitive impairment.
Not just for seniors, an assessment can also be useful for students who may be falling behind in schoolwork due to learning or attention difficulties, and for those who have had a stroke or head injury.
“If you have concerns that your thinking abilities have become impaired in some way, the first step is to discuss the concerns with your doctor,” said Watts. “He or she can look at your symptoms along with your medical history and medication use to determine the best course of treatment.”
Your primary care provider can refer you for an assessment, which takes approximately two to four hours. The assessment is a combination of an interview with the neuropsychologist, pencil and paper tests, and computerized testing.
After the assessment, your medical team can review your strengths and weaknesses to see if additional services like counseling or occupational therapy can help your individual case. A neuropsychological assessment may be just one of other diagnostic tests, such as brain imaging or a laboratory workup, your provider orders before recommending treatment.
If you suspect you or a loved one may be in need of assessment, please discuss with your primary care provider and ask for a referral to Samaritan Neuropsychology.
Visit our health library to learn more about the different forms of dementia, how it’s diagnosed and treatment options.