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What’s The Difference Between A Neurologist And A Neuropsychologist?

Published On: June 4, 2024

Your mother has been forgetful lately, missing appointments and feeling frustrated with herself. You have noticed that she seems confused or disoriented by tasks that were once simple and routine. You feel worried but do not know where to go for help.

What do you do when a loved one is showing signs of cognitive dysfunction? And, need support with brain health?

When a loved one shows signs of cognitive dysfunction, it can be hard to know where to turn for help with brain health. One of the most common questions we hear regards the difference between a neurologist and a neuropsychologist.

Both professionals play roles in the brain health of adults, especially older adults who may have multiple brain-related and other medical issues. However, you maybe confused understanding what each does and who a loved one needs to see.

If you are concerned about cognitive issues, the first step is to speak with a primary care physician who can provide a referral to a neurologist or neuropsychologist. Understanding the differences between the two professions can help you receive the best treatment and care possible.

Let us explore what a neurologist and neuropsychologist are, what they do, what they don’t do, and how they help you with cognitive and neurological problems.

Definitions Of Neurologist And Neuropsychologist

First, we will start by defining each professional term.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “a neurologist is a medical doctor who diagnoses, treats, and manages disorders of the brain and nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves).”

According to the National Association of Neuropsychology, a neuropsychologist “is a professional within the field of psychology with special expertise in the applied science of brain-behavior relationships.”

Education For Neurologists Vs. Neuropsychologists

A neurologist is a medical doctor with an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) specializing in neurological disorders.

Neurological disorders impact the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles. Symptoms may include problems with balance, fainting, confusion, tremors, pain, and dizziness. Many neurologists receive additional training to develop further expertise in particular conditions such as sleep disorders, headaches, migraines, and epilepsy.

A neuropsychologist has a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) in psychology and completes an internship and two years of specialized training in clinical neuropsychology. They do this before becoming a board-certified neuropsychologist. Clinical neuropsychology is a recognized specialty of clinical psychology.

Treatments Provided By Neurologist Vs. Neuropsychologist

Neurologists are medical professionals who specialize in treating disorders that affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. These disorders can include Parkinson’s Disease, epilepsy, migraine headaches, strokes, ALS, and multiple sclerosis. Because the diagnoses can be complex, many neurologists focus on treating a specific disorder or condition.

Neurologists perform CT scans, MRI, and EEG to diagnose neurological disorders. They also perform procedures like lumbar puncture for cerebral spinal fluid analysis, nerve conduction studies, and electromyography. As medical experts, neurologists primarily focus on the physical effects of neurological disorders.

On the other hand, neuropsychologists study the brain’s cognitive functions, such as attention, memory, and executive function. They use task-based metrics, which are unique to the field of neuropsychology, to evaluate the functionality of your brain.

A neuropsychologist can help develop a treatment plan based on the neuropsychological tests to address cognitive function. This plan could include health concerns such as Parkinson’s disease, which may also be diagnosed and treated by a neurologist.

What Neurologists And Neuropsychologists Don’t Do

Neurologists aren’t surgeons. If you require surgery, they will refer you to a neurosurgeon.

Neuropsychologists do not conduct imaging or prescribe medication; neurologists do.

How Neurologists And Neuropsychologists Work Together

Neurologists and neuropsychologists often collaborate to provide the best diagnosis and treatment options.

For example, a neurologist can diagnose a patient with Parkinson’s disease. The neuropsychologist can conduct tests to evaluate your functioning to memory, attention, and executive function.

Neurologists may consult a neuropsychologist for advice or perspective if a diagnosis is difficult. Neuropsychological testing can provide more clarity, and vice versa. When patients require imaging or testing that only a neurologist can perform, neuropsychologists collaborate with neurologists during diagnosis.

Prioritizing brain health is achievable for everyone, regardless of their circumstances. By embracing these diverse strategies, individuals from all walks of life can foster cognitive vitality and age with grace and resilience.

Let’s celebrate the richness of human experience and empower each other to thrive at every stage of life. Whether it’s savoring the simple pleasures of a home-cooked meal with loved ones, finding solace in community connections, or embarking on new adventures of discovery, the journey of aging offers countless opportunities for growth and fulfillment. Together, let’s navigate this path with intention and compassion, embracing the full spectrum of human potential, nurturing brain health and spirits along the way.

Here’s A Quick Recap

A neurologist is a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats the physical symptoms of the brain, spine, and nerve-related disorders like dementia, Parkinson’s disease, concussions, sleep disorders, and more.

Neuropsychologists are psychologists who test and determine brain function related to brain disorders and how brain function and behavior are connected. Neuropsychologists test and assess the psychological issues faced by patients with neurological conditions and provide treatment plans to help in their rehabilitation.

Finally, remember that there is an overlap between the neurologists and neuropsychologists. They often work closely, share information, and help each other make the best possible diagnoses and treatment plans.

What Are Your Next Steps?

If you or a loved one is concerned about cognitive function and brain health, speak with your primary care doctor and make an appointment for an evaluation.

If you need help, contact Dr. Neha K. Dixit can help explain options and provide a personalized plan for managing treatment and finding personal care.