A neurological assessment is an evaluation of a person’s nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, and the nerves that connect these areas to other parts of the body. A neurological exam is done to assess for any abnormalities in the nervous system that can cause problems with daily functioning. A complete exam includes evaluation of an individual’s speech, awareness of environment, motor function and balance (walking ability, muscle strength, and tone), sensation, reflexes, coordination, and the 12 cranial nerves of the brain. These nerves are involved in smell, vision, pupil activity, eye movement, taste, hearing, swallowing, and movement of the face, neck, and shoulders. The health provider will use tools such as lights and reflex hammers to test these various functions of the body; the typical neurological exam will also include a general physical examination and discussion of symptoms and medical history to put any neurological abnormalities into context.
What to Expect in a Neurological Exam
When to Conduct a Neurological Assessment
A neuropsychological assessment is conducted if a person has experienced trauma or head injury, or reports a range of symptoms that may include dizziness, blurry vision, confusion or difficulty with motor functions. It often includes non-invasive measures of brain activity including an EEG (Electroenchephalography), which captures brain wave activity; an EMG (Electromyography), which captures nerve activity from the brain or spinal cord to a peripheral nerve such as in the arm or leg, and brain scans such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). If a neurodevelopmental condition such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or a neurodegenerative disorder such as Alzheimer's Disease or Parkinson's is to be ruled in or out, an assessment may be paired with neuropsychological tests, which involve pen and paper tests and clinical interviews.