Doctor Specializes in Identifying the Nuances of Cognitive Age-Related Change
Dr. Scott Belanger
“Is it normal to experience memory lapses as I get older?”
“I feel like I’m pausing more often and searching for words while I’m speaking with others.”
These are some of the most common questions and concerns I hear about in my clinical practice. As a neuropsychologist, it is my job to get a detailed understanding of brain functioning and answer the question, “Is this normal aging or early changes due to something like Alzheimer’s disease?” This is accomplished by an interview and administration of specific tests to assess cognition (e.g., attention, memory, language, reasoning), as well as emotional functioning.
In my 15 years in the field, I have learned that an individualized approach to assessment is key. It is crucial to have a detailed understanding of a person’s background, including educational/occupational history, medical history, health-related behaviors, and stressors. This way test results are interpreted in the context of a real human being. Often, I find that individuals are accurately perceiving cognitive changes that are missed by common screening measures administered as part of yearly visits with primary care physicians. This is not to disparage cognitive screening, but brief assessments will often miss subtle changes in memory or higher-level cognitive abilities.
My approach to neuropsychological testing accomplishes several things, including establishing a baseline, documenting a person’s strengths and weaknesses, identifying any underlying causes for the cognitive changes, and making individualized recommendations. Many times, I am in the position of explaining the process of normal age-related cognitive changes to a bright and high functioning person concerned about their health and wellbeing. Other times, the evaluation leads to targeted interventions to address conditions that can cause progressive cognitive decline.
What can be done if testing identifies cognitive difficulties? We will work together to develop a plan that can integrate both medical and behavioral interventions. For me, the most rewarding part of the job is using the evaluation to meet a person where they are and to help them feel and function better in daily life.
Dr. Belanger is one of several providers at Southern Arizona Neuropsychology Associates, where services are delivered to patients across the lifespan. This includes Pediatric Services, Adult Services, and Cognitive Rehabilitation Services. We’re happy to answer any questions you might have about whether a neuropsychological evaluation is right for you.