Neuropsychology and neurology are scientific disciplines that share the study of knowledge of the brain and the relationships between diseases that affect it and human behavior.
Although these are two disciplines with many aspects in common, there are also clear differences between them.. In this article, we’ll focus on what differentiates neuropsychology from neurology, as well as the different functions that neuropsychologists and neurologists must perform in their respective professions.
What is neuropsychology and what does it study?
Neuropsychology is a branch of scientific knowledge responsible for studying the relationships between brain activity, higher cognitive functions (attention, memory, gnosis, praxis, etc.) and human behavior in all its forms. Areas: family, interpersonal, social, etc. .
One of the main sources of knowledge in neuropsychology comes from the study of brain functions and structures, both preserved and modified; the latter, products of organic lesions (such as cranioencephalic trauma, stroke, epilepsy, etc.) affect the brain and, consequently, the behavior of the individual.
Functions of the neuropsychologist
The neuropsychologist is usually a professional psychologist specializing in the study of the brain and its relationship to behavior. The main functions of a neuropsychological professional are as follows:
Perform neuropsychological assessments
This is to assess whether there is brain damage and see which structures have been damaged.. General neuropsychological batteries and specific tests for each domain or cognitive function are used for this task.
It is a process aimed at rehabilitating, that is, slowing down or improving cognitive impairment caused by brain injury.. For this, individual aspects such as age, personality type, background of the person, etc. must be taken into account.
A neuropsychologist may also be partially or fully engaged in the field of research, conducting experiments with healthy subjects and groups, comparing them with others affected by brain damage or brain damage. The most studied aspects in the field of neuropsychology are generally memory, attention, speed of processing or executive functions, mainly in patients with acquired brain injury, stroke, neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive disorders.
What is neurology?
Neurology is a specialty of medicine that deals with the study of the functions and development of the nervous system. (Central, peripheral and autonomic) and muscular, both in healthy subjects and in people with a certain type of brain pathology.
This scientific discipline feeds on all the diseases that affect the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (muscles and nerves). The most common are dementia, epilepsy, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or traumatic brain injury.
Functions of the neurologist
A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in the study and treatment of diseases that affect the nervous system.. Its main function is to diagnose and treat people with disorders of the brain and spinal cord, although it is true that a neurologist can also treat many other common diseases, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. .
Differences between neuropsychology and neurology
Neuropsychology and neurology are disciplines that belong to the same scientific field: neurosciences.
The two share similarities, since are responsible for studying the brain, its diseases or injuries and the behavior of people in an attempt to cure or rehabilitate themselves; however, as we will see below, they also differ in several respects.
Original differences: which discipline appeared earlier?
Neuropsychology is a relatively recent discipline, as it finds its origins in the work of physicians, neurologists and psychiatrists, of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with references such as Paul Broca and Carl Wernicke and their studies on the ‘aphasia. It was not until the 1940s, with Luria’s publications and theories on the cerebral organization of language and its pathologies, that this discipline became popular.
Neurology, for its part, is a much older discipline and its modern origins date back to the early 17th century and to the work of Thomas Willis, an English physician and pioneer of neuroanatomical research. Purkinje first, with his studies of describing neurons, and Ramón y Cajal later, with his discoveries on neural connections, also shaped what centuries later would shape modern neurology.
So we could say that neuropsychology comes from and has been nurtured since its inception in a discipline like neurology, Broaden its field of action over the years and use other fields such as psychology or cognitive neuroscience.
Differences from the perspective of the study: molar or molecular analysis
Neuropsychology, like neurology, is responsible for studying diseases that affect the brain and its relationship to behavior. However, there is something that sets them apart: and is it, in the case of neuropsychology, its level of analysis is less molecular and more molar than in neurology. What does it mean? Let’s look at an example.
When a patient comes to the consultation because he sees that he is forgetting more and more things and thinks he may be suffering from some type of dementia or cognitive impairment, the role of the neurologist will be to realize a thorough neurological assessment by brain imaging, MRI, etc. ) to identify groups of affected neurons, their location, affected structure, and more. Finally, its task is to perform a molecular analysis (exclusively at the level of biological and neurological detail) of what is happening in the patient’s brain.
In contrast, the task of a neuropsychological professional in the event of a suspected cognitive impairment will vary considerably: after a thorough neuropsychological assessment (with specific tests to detect impaired cognitive functions), functions and structures will be investigated. Damaged to relate these alterations to the general behavior of the patient, understood as part of a biopsychosocial organism. This is a molar analysis.
It is therefore not a question of identifying whether more or less part of the brain tissue has been damaged, information that a neurologist can already provide; the task of neuropsychology is to assess what this cognitive deficit consists of (and its relation to other cognitive processes) and how it can help the person to regain his autonomy and functional performance, by compensating or restoring functions preserved and altered.
Treatment differences: cognitive vs pharmacological rehabilitation
One of the aspects that differentiates neurology from neuropsychology is its methodology with regard to treatment.. A discipline like neurology, which is nothing more than a medical specialty, will mainly tackle a disease of the brain through the use of psychotropic drugs, because a health professional is trained and trained for it.
Prescribing psychotropic drugs, in this case aimed at relieving or treating diseases in the brain area, is a power that only doctors enjoy. A neuropsychologist, who usually only has training in psychology, is not authorized to prescribe medicationSo your tools for trying to help and rehabilitate the person with brain damage will be others.
The neuropsychologist will apply cognitive rehabilitation techniques and tools, a therapeutic procedure used to compensate or improve cognitive deficits associated with brain damage. In general, generic programs for the rehabilitation of higher cognitive functions (care system, memory, executive functions, etc.) will be used, as well as techniques to improve the basic activities of daily life of the patient.
We must not forget that the objective of any therapeutic program must be to improve the autonomy and the quality of life of the affected person. The neurologist, by prescribing drugs, and the neuropsychologist, by methods of cognitive rehabilitation, have been two key figures in the overall process of improving the biopsychosocial well-being of the individual.
- Beaumont, JG (1983). Introduction to neuropsychology. Guilford.
- Gadenne, V. (2006). Philosophy of psychology. Spain: Herder.
- Portellano, JA (2005). Introduction to neuropsychology. Madrid: McGraw Hill.
- Rains, GD (2003). Principles of Human Neuropsychology, Boston: McGraw Hill.