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Differences between neuropsychology and neurology

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The neuropsychology and the neurology They are scientific disciplines that share the study of knowledge of the brain and the relationships between the diseases that affect it and human behavior.

Despite being two disciplines with many aspects in common, there are also clear differences between one and the other.. In this article we will focus on what differentiates neuropsychology from neurology, as well as from different roles to be fulfilled by both neuropsychologists and neurologists in their respective Professions.

What is neuropsychology and what does it study?

Neuropsychology is a branch of scientific knowledge that is responsible for studying the relationships between the activity of the brain, the higher cognitive functions (attention, memory, gnosia, praxis, etc.) and human behavior in all its areas: family, interpersonal, social, etc.

One of the main sources of knowledge of neuropsychology comes from study of brain functions and structures, both preserved and altered; The latter, the product of organic injuries (such as head injuries, stroke, epilepsy, etc.) affect the brain and, therefore, the individual's behavior.

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Functions of the neuropsychologist

The neuropsychologist is usually a professional psychologist who has specialized in the study of the brain and its relationships to behavior. The main functions of a neuropsychology professional are as follows:

Conducting Neuropsychological Assessments

It is about evaluating if there is brain damage and seeing what structures have been damaged. For this purpose, general neuropsychological batteries and specific tests are used for each area or cognitive function.

Neuropsychological rehabilitation

It is a process aimed at rehabilitating, that is, stopping or improving the cognitive deterioration produced by a brain injury. For this, individual aspects such as age, personality type, the person's background, etc. must be taken into account.

Investigation

A neuropsychologist can also dedicate himself partially or totally to the field of research, performing experiments with healthy subjects and groups, comparing them with others affected by damage or injury cerebral. The most studied aspects in the field of neuropsychology tend to be memory, attention, processing speed or executive functions, mainly in patients with brain damage acquired, ictus, neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive impairment.

Neurons

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 some type of brain pathology.

This scientific discipline is nourished by the set of diseases that affect the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (muscles and nerves). The most common are usually dementias, epilepsy, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis or head injuries.

Neurologist functions

A neurologist is a doctor who has specialized 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 take care of many other common diseases, such as diabetes.

Differences between neuropsychology and neurology

Neuropsychology and neurology are disciplines that belong to the same scientific field: neurosciences.

Both share similarities, since They are responsible for studying the brain, its diseases or injuries and the behavior of people to try to cure or rehabilitate them; however, as we will see below, they also differ in several respects.

Differences in origin: what discipline came first?

Neuropsychology is a relatively recent discipline, since it has its origins in the work of physicians, neurologists and psychiatrists, from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, with references such as Paul Broca or Carl Wernicke and their studies on aphasia. Although it was not until the 40s of the last century, with the publications of Luria and his theories on the brain organization of language and its pathologies, when this discipline became popular.

For its part, neurology is a much older discipline whose modern origins could be traced back to early seventeenth century and the works of Thomas Willis, English physician and pioneer in research neuroanatomical. Purkinje first, with his studies on the description of neurons, and Ramón y Cajal later, with his findings on neural connections, also shaped what centuries later would make up neurology current.

It could be said, therefore, that neuropsychology comes from and has been nurtured since its inception by a discipline such as neurology, expanding over the years its field of action and making use of other fields such as psychology or cognitive neuroscience.

Differences in study perspective: molar vs molecular analysis

Neuropsychology, like neurology, is responsible for studying diseases that affect the brain and their relationship with behavior. However, there is something that differentiates them: and it is that, in the case of neuropsychology, its level of analysis is less molecular and more molar than in neurology. What does this mean? Let's see it with an example.

When a patient comes to the office because he sees that he is forgetting things more and more and believes that he could begin to suffer from some type of dementia or cognitive impairment, the role of the neurologist will be to perform a thorough neurological evaluation (using techniques brain imaging, magnetic resonance imaging, etc.) to identify the groups of neurons affected, their location, affected structure and the rest. Ultimately, its mission is to carry out a molecular analysis (exclusively at the level of biological and neurological detail) of what happens in the patient's brain.

In contrast, the work of a neuropsychology professional in a case of suspected cognitive impairment will vary substantially: after a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation (with specific tests to detect altered cognitive functions), it will investigate the functions and damaged structures to relate these alterations to the general behavior of the patient, understood as part of an organism biopsychosocial. This is a molar analysis.

It is not a question, then, 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 relationship with the rest of cognitive processes) and how the person can be helped to regain their autonomy and functional performance, by compensating or restoring preserved and altered functions.

Treatment differences: cognitive vs pharmacological rehabilitation

One of the aspects that differentiate neurology from neuropsychology is its methodology when approaching treatment. A discipline such as neurology, which is nothing more than a medical specialty, will address as a priority a brain disease through the use of psychotropic drugs, as a trained and trained medical professional for it.

The prescription of psychotropic drugs, in this case aimed at alleviating or treating brain diseases, is a power that only doctors enjoy. A neuropsychologist, who generally only has training in psychology, is not authorized to prescribe medication, so his tools to try to help and rehabilitate the person with brain damage are going to be others.

The neuropsychologist will apply cognitive rehabilitation techniques and tools, a therapeutic procedure used to compensate or improve the cognitive deficits associated with brain damage. Typically, generic rehabilitation programs for higher cognitive functions (attentional system, memory, executive functions, etc.), as well as techniques to improve the basic activities of the patient's daily life.

It should not be forgotten that the objective of any therapeutic program should be to improve the autonomy and quality of life of the affected person. Both the neurologist, through the prescription of drugs, and the neuropsychologist, through methods of cognitive rehabilitation, will be two key figures in the global process of improving biopsychosocial well-being of the individual.

Bibliographic references:

  • Beaumont, J. G. (1983). Introduction to Neuropsychology. Guilford.
  • Gadenne, V. (2006). Philosophy of psychology. Spain: Herder.
  • Portellano, J. TO. (2005). Introduction to neuropsychology. Madrid: McGraw Hill.
  • Rains, G. D. (2003). Principles of Human Neuropsychology, Boston: McGraw Hill.
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