WHAT IS NEUROCOGNITIVE TESTING?
Neurocognitive testing is a way to measure brain function non-invasively. It uses computerized or paper-and-pencil tests to assess important aspects of cognition: attention, language, memory, perception, reaction time, and so on.
This isn’t about asking someone how they’re doing or feeling, it’s about giving small tasks that directly measure that. The different tests are specifically crafted to measure particular aspects of brain function. By measuring subtle aspects of brain function, clinicians and researchers can get a powerful microscope into what’s happening under the hood.
In this way, neurocognitive testing gives a standardized way to get a snapshot of brain health. The tests are objective, and the scores provide a way to compare a person’s functioning to the rest of the population, or against themselves at a previous time.
ADVANTAGES OF NEUROCOGNITIVE TESTING
Neurocognitive testing has several advantages over more invasive tests: it doesn’t take much time to complete, and unlike brain scans that are very costly, or surgeries that involve risks, this kind of testing can be done at a desk or on a tablet.
Collectively, the scores can be used to measure brain function, and in a clinical setting are often used for the diagnosis of problems, such as concussion, dementia, or learning disabilities.
DETECTING PROBLEMS EARLY ON
Neurocognitive testing can help detect problems early on. Early detection of concussion and dementia are commonly missed, but they don’t have to be, because they’re accompanied by subtle changes in attention, perception, and hand-eye skills. Those changes can be picked up with simple tests. And that can help determine someone’s fitness for returning to work or athletic play, or their capacity for living alone and managing their own finances.
Neurocognitive testing can tease out the patterns that allow detection, and can also allow tracking through time, for example, to keep a good baseline of your cognition in mild cognitive dementia, or to assess recovery in concussion.
Neurocognitive testing has been in use for a long time. Traditionally, it has been done with paper and pencil — but in recent years, computerized neurocognitive tests have been shown to be even more efficient and more sensitive than the traditional tests. And it’s not surprising. We can be consistent, capture precise reaction times, keep attention focused, randomize trials, and score totally objectively. These tests can be run without a professional to administer them, which means they can be run more often, in the privacy of a home or on the sidelines of a playing field.
Given these advantages, Dr. David Eagleman and others have been gamifying tests on mobile devices. This makes the testing easy to use and portable, giving users the ability to take the tests early and often.
Having the ability to track cognitive health throughout an individual’s lifetime allows for a deeper understanding of brain health, allowing someone to take early action.
Dr. Andreas Grossgold and Dr. David Eagleman are well associated with one another, having previously worked together as Neuroscientists at Baylor College of Medicine.