Neurocognitive Testing: What Is It & Is It Right for You?

October 11, 2019

Memory is the treasure house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved.

Thomas Fuller, M.D.

Oftentimes, impaired cognitive function comes with age. Yet, there are many other factors that could play into mental acuity, including diet, exercise, and hormone levels.

When doctors have a full understanding of patient health, including both their physical biomarkers and brain function, they are better able to understand the complex interplay among these physical and mental aspects of wellness to make more informed care decisions.

What is Neurocognitive Testing?

Neurocognitive testing is a noninvasive method for measuring brain function. It evaluates specific cognitive abilities, including memory, fine motor control, and recognition, among others. Various abilities are linked to different areas in the brain. For instance, organization skills are linked to the frontal lobes, while memory skills are concentrated in the temporal lobes.

Assessing cognitive strengths and weaknesses gives doctors a comprehensive picture of how your brain is functioning overall. Find out more about this powerful testing method and why it’s used below.

What Does Neurocognitive Performance Testing Assess?

A light bulb in the middle of a white maze, an example of neurocognitive testing

Neurocognitive tests are robust and measure a broad range of functions. At Cenegenics, these tests are broken down into six individual assessments, each of which measures a specific brain function:

  1. Verbal Memory Test: The verbal memory test measures a subject’s ability to recognize, remember and retrieve words. Subjects are given 15 words to remember and are asked to recognize them in a field of 15 distractors. There are two parts to the test: immediate, and delayed, which are given later. A low score on this section indicates verbal memory impairment.
  2. Visual Memory Test: This test assesses a subject’s ability to recognize, remember, and retrieve geometric figures. The format is the same as that of the verbal memory test, with both immediate and delayed segments and 15 figures in total.
  3. Finger Tapping Test: This test measures motor speed and fine motor control ability. The subject is instructed to perform three rounds of tapping with each hand. Oftentimes, subjects are quicker with their dominant hand. A low score could indicate motor slowing.
  4. Symbol Digit Coding: The SDC test measures a subject’s speed of processing. It employs the use of several cognitive processes at once, including visual scanning, perception, memory, and motor functions. Errors could indicate confusion, misperception, impulsive responding.
  5. Stroop Test: The Stroop test measures reaction times and mental flexibility. It is used to test impulsivity and inhibitor control. Prolonged reactions are indicative of cognitive slowing or impairment.
  6. Shifting Attention Test: This test measures executive function, or a subject’s reaction to set-shifting and simultaneous task management. In another test of mental flexibility, the exercise requires subjects to adjust their responses to rules that change at random. Top scores include high correct responses, short reaction time, and few errors. This test can uncover attention deficit.
  7. Continuous Performance Test: The CPT assesses sustained attention and choice reaction time. Under normal circumstances, subjects tend to score near-perfect scores on this test. A long response time could indicate cognitive slowing or impairment.

Based on the scores of the exercises above, patients receive a score for each of the following domains:

  • Neurocognition index
  • Composite memory
  • Verbal memory
  • Visual memory
  • Psychomotor speed
  • Reaction time
  • Complex attention
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Processing speed
  • Executive function
  • Simple visual attention
  • Motor speed

There are also embedded measures built into the assessments to evaluate their validity. These help to evaluate whether a subject could be manipulating the test score, either intentionally or as a result of not understanding the test instructions.

Scores are also given in ranges including above average, average, low average, low, and very low. These ranges allow doctors to determine potential cognitive deficits and their level of impairment.

Why Do the Findings of Neurocognitive Testing Matter?

Brain scans up on a backlight, a procedure that can be costly, where neurocognitive testing is affordable and as effective

Neurocognitive tests have many benefits. Brain scans and surgeries can be costly, time-intensive, and invasive, but neurocognitive performance tests don’t take much time to complete and pose no risk to patient health. Plus, the scores from these assessments can accurately measure brain function, which may allow for the diagnosis of issues or impairments.

Even the slightest impairments can be evaluated with millisecond precision to provide immediate clinical insight into a patient’s impairments or deficits. Doctors can then use these impairments to look for patterns, which help to identify causes or any other underlying conditions.

Neurocognitive tests are also useful for establishing a baseline of cognitive wellness. Whether an issue is detected or the patient scores high in all test areas, their present answers provide a baseline that clinicians can reference in the future. This will allow them to better manage clinical conditions and treatments. For example, comparing the scores of future tests to the baseline results will allow doctors to determine whether the patient is responding well to treatments, rehabilitation efforts, or even simple lifestyle tactics such as exercise and dietary changes to promote better cognitive wellness.

Modern neurocognitive performance testing is extremely sensitive and objective and shows the ability to produce consistent results. Ultimately, doctors who provide this service can achieve a more comprehensive understanding of patient health, with the ability to measure not only physical wellness but also brain health.

Is Neurocognitive Testing Right for You?

An older man and woman sitting and smiling while watching television

Changes in cognition are often associated with natural changes brought on by aging. Yet, figuring any cognitive impairments are unavoidable parts of aging is a dangerous assumption to make. While aging is a natural process, it’s one that can be managed through personalized and comprehensive care.

If you’ve been experiencing any differences in your cognitive abilities – no matter your age – you could be a good candidate for neurocognitive testing. In particular, anyone with the following symptoms should consider an assessment:

  • Brain fog
  • Recurring headaches
  • Mood changes or depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble multitasking

A neurocognitive test could shed light on any underlying issues and give doctors the ability to pinpoint issues early on when treatments are most likely to be effective. They can also observe any areas of cognitive underperformance which could be improved with simple lifestyle adjustments. No matter what your circumstances may be, this testing can uncover illuminating results which have the potential to improve your life and preserve your mental acuity, now and into the future.

This Gold Mine of Information Is Available to You – In Conclusion

Neurocognitive testing may sound intimidating, but this noninvasive assessment simply gauges key brain functions to measure mental acuity. With a series of simple tests, clinicians are able to look for any impairments in the areas of memory, motor skills, processing speed, attention, and reaction time, among others. These insights can uncover potential problem areas, but also help to provide a roadmap for treatment or lifestyle management techniques, if needed.

If you’re interested in exploring the benefits of neurocognitive testing firsthand, contact your nearest Cenegenics location. This testing is a standard component of Cenegenics’ Elite Health Evaluations, which help trained clinicians uncover valuable insights into their patients’ overall health. With these robust evaluations and the subsequent care they receive, patients can enjoy optimal health and vitality as they age.

Next Steps to Scheduling Your Neurocognitive Test

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Key Resources

This guide was produced with contributions from the following key resources:

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine V1 for nutrition, mastering healthy aging, exercise and hormone replacement therapy

The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation  

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 1: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise, and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Click to purchase

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine V2 for nutrition, mastering healthy aging, exercise and hormone replacement therapy

The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation  

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 2: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Click to purchase

Textbook Authors:

Jeffrey Park Leake, M.D., CPT

Dr. Jeffrey Park Leake is a Partner and Director of Education at Cenegenics Elite Health specializing in age management and wellness. Having trained hundreds of physicians worldwide, Dr. Leake is also the Director of Education for the Clinical Strategies for Healthy Aging course at AMM Educational Foundation.


Todd David Greenberg, M.D., CSCS

Dr. Todd Greenberg is a practicing physician with a broad range of expertise, including wellness, exercise, sports injuries, and MRI of sports injuries. He is a Radiology Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington.

Additional Resources

Understanding Preventive Care: Age Management vs Anti-Aging

What is Age Management Medicine?

Youth is a Feeling – Not a Number

Understanding How to Deal with Stressors

This is How Your Body is Reacting to Stress

Long Term Effects of Anxiety on the Body

Causes and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

Learn About Vitamin K – Including Beneficial Foods with Vitamin K

Are You Experiencing Low Vitamin D?

What is Andropause? And How is it Affecting You?

Benefits of Fish Oil on Mental Health & Overall Wellness

Contributor: Rudy Inaba Vice President of Health Performance

Rudy Inaba is Cenegenics’ Vice President of Health Performance. He is a recognized fitness and sports nutrition consultant with nearly 15 years of experience in clinical exercise physiology and lifestyle management. After pursuing his Master of Science in Clinical Exercise Physiology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Rudy joined Cenegenics where he leads 19 clinical locations nationwide in their advancements in kinesiology, nutritional biochemistry, and their analyses of industry research & market trending.

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