If you are wondering what a neuropsychologist does, then you're not alone...
Neuropsychology doesn't just sound interesting; it is interesting! Neuropsychology is the study of how your brain affects your behavior. In other words, it's the practice of psychology and medicine rolled into one. For instance, the frontal lobe (the part of the brain that is located just behind your forehead) serves a number of important functions, a few of which include the expression of your personality, the regulation of your behavior, and your ability to make complicated decisions. When a person is acting erratically despite being in otherwise perfect health, doctors often hypothesize that at least some degree of frontal lobe dysfunction might be to blame. In the mid-1930's, the first lobotomies were performed in an effort to drastically alter brain-behavior relationships gone haywire.
Now I certainly don't perform lobotomies, hook people up to machines, or even physically touch my patients in order to assess how their brain is affecting their functioning. Rather, I rely on standardized tests to explore very specific skill sets. These tests include the administration of puzzles, questionnaires, and straightforward question-and-answer sessions. Over the course of a few hours, I am able to determine my patient's IQ, his/her ability to pay attention, how this person best learns information, how this person best remembers that information, his/her reaction time, and much more! When I score up these tests, I compare my patient's results to other people of the same age and education level. After all, who would expect the reaction time of your 82-year-old mother with a high school diploma to compare to the reaction time of your 25-year-old neighbor in her final year of law school?
Okay, so now I've identified that you have an attention deficit rather than a memory problem. Now what? Now we can discuss a diagnosis and treatment plan. This could involve further exploration into the issues that are interfering with your ability to pay attention and how to cope with them more effectively (psychotherapy), a referral for medication management (psychiatric evaluation), or even a referral for neuroimaging (neurology consult). Either way, you now have a comprehensive report that details your cognitive strengths and weaknesses and provides you with helpful recommendations. Being armed with this information will help you set more realistic goals to maximize your overall functioning. For example, college students might use this information to develop better study strategies, athletes might use this information to assess the effects of a concussion, and older adults might use this information to determine whether they could benefit from assistance.
By the way, even though I am using the word "test," there is no need to study for a neuropsychological evaluation! In fact, it's better that you don't do anything out of your ordinary routine to prepare for it. Try to look at the evaluation as a snapshot in time. If you're tired and stressed out, then - yes- these variables will most likely affect your results. However, this also tells me that we should probably address your sleeping habits and the way in which you are managing (or not managing) your stress. Although I probably can't offer a cure for your problems, I promise that together we can identify ways to improve your overall quality of life.