There are many forms of neurological and neurodegenerative disorder, and due to the similarity in the symptoms produced, it can often be extremely difficult to distinguish between them. This makes diagnosis difficult, although it is necessary in order to determine what the most appropriate form of treatment will be. Therefore, if you or your doctor suspect that you may have developed a neurological disorder, it will be necessary for you to undergo a neurological assessment.
The neurological assessment is intended to determine exactly what your symptoms are, how much of the body is affected, and help with a diagnosis. In degenerative conditions, it also assesses how capable you are of performing a range of essential, everyday tasks. There are several different aspects to a neurological assessment. Reflex testing will be the part that most people are familiar with, and this involves the use of a reflex hammer to tap the relevant parts of the body. If this results in a strong twitch, then the nerves are working correctly. A weak twitch or no reaction means that there is a problem, although it does not identify whether the sensory neurone, central nervous system or motor neurone is responsible.
Reflexes such as the pupils of the eyes will be tested, using a bright light. If this response does not occur as expected (narrowing of the pupils when the light is directed at the eyes), then it suggests that the brain is not functioning correctly. Some tests, such as those that assess the nerve conduction, require a specialist to carry them out, whereas the reflex tests can be performed by the majority of medical staff.
For conditions that are thought to involve the brain, an EEG (electroencephalograph) will be used. This monitors the activity of the brain through a set of electrodes that are placed on the head, so it is a non-invasive procedure. It can be used in conditions such as epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, brain tumors and degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. Stimuli can be used in conjunction with the EEG to assess if any changes occur. It will be necessary to avoid both caffeine and any medications that can alter the activity of the nervous system, including those that have been prescribed for your condition.
Sometimes, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are used to produce images of the body, and this is particularly useful in the assessment of neurological conditions that involve the brain and spinal cord. The MRI scanner produces a detailed image, which allows any damage or abnormal growths to be identified. This makes it a very useful tool in diagnosis. A variation known as functional MRI, or fMRI, can be used to determine the activity within the brain, which is particularly useful in tracking the degeneration that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease. Other conditions such as multiple sclerosis and stroke can also be assessed in this way. Combined with the functional assessments of a variety of tasks, this can be used to determine how much support and care a patient might need.
The Neurological Exam
Neurological Health Assessment