What is a neuropsychological or cognitive assessment?

Neuropsychological assessment

A neuropsychological assessment is a comprehensive evaluation to examine thinking skills, including attention, learning and memory, information processing speed, reasoning and problem-solving. The assessment includes several tests across all domains of thinking skills. The results provide information about how the brain works and about the relationship between brain functioning and behaviour, mood and thinking. 

The assessment starts with a clinical interview of your background, followed by testing sessions. The assessment is usually completed over several appointments. 

During the assessment, you will be asked to undertake a range of mental (or cognitive) tasks. These tasks are typically in a pencil and paper format, or they can be presented on a computer. 

When is neuropsychological testing done?

Your healthcare provider might want a neuropsychological assessment if there are changes in thinking skills, such as attention or memory problems, communication difficulties, unexplained change in personality or mood, trouble keeping up with school, work, or daily task demands, trouble staying organized or completing tasks, trouble with judgment or decision making. 

Psychiatric illness can compromise cognitive efficiency, and as such, it can be valuable for patients with mental health symptoms to undergo neuropsychological assessment. The results of neuropsychological assessment can help your healthcare provider determine a diagnosis, identify areas of strength and weakness in your thinking processes (cognition) and develop plans for future treatment and interventions. 

Neuropsychological assessment can be helpful to: 

  • To gauge an individual’s cognitive and emotional profile (i.e., strengths and weaknesses) and aid in treatment planning.
  • To establish a “baseline” if later changes are anticipated (pre- and post-treatment). 
  • To track progress in rehabilitation and the effects of treatment and medication.
  • To help with educational placement, interventions, and accommodations.
  • For determination of disability or return-to-work/school. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I prepare for the assessment?

  • Get a good sleep the night before an assessment and avoid using alcohol or street drugs in the preceding days. 
  • On the day of the assessment, eat a healthy breakfast and drink coffee or tea as you normally do. 
  • Take all your medications as usual. 
  • Bring your glasses, contacts, hearing aids, or other assistive devices.
  • There will also be rest breaks provided throughout testing. We want your mind working at its best!

Should I take my medications before the testing?

Yes, please take your medications as prescribed.

How long will the testing take?

The entire assessment process can take a long time (somewhere between 4-6 hours typically). Most people complete the assessment in two to three appointments. Completing the cognitive tests requires concentration and effort. 

Can I fail the testing?

Most certainly not!

It is not possible to fail the testing because the goal is to determine the strengths and weaknesses in your thinking. This will help you figure out how to maximize your skills and identify skills that might benefit from training or accommodations at school or work. 

Most people find some of the tests to be quite easy and others to be difficult. You aren’t expected to get everything right and no one “fails.” The point of the testing is to identify your personal strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to work as hard as possible on all the tests so the results are accurate and helpful. 

Is there anything else I should bring?

It is very helpful if people who have previously had educational, speech-language pathology, psychological, or neuropsychological assessments to bring copies of the assessment results or reports with them. You may also wish to bring copies of your old school report cards. If you are scheduled for an all-day assessment, you can bring a lunch (or lunch money). A drink and a snack are often good to have handy, even if you are scheduled for a half-day assessment.