Many people may not be familiar with neuropsychology, but it’s a field that’s growing fast.
“As our aging population grows, so does the need for evidence-based assessment of cognitive disorders,” says Dr. Megan Baldassarre, a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist at Northwest Neurology, with locations in Lake Barrington, South Barrington, Rolling Meadows, Crystal Lake, Elk Grove, Northbrook and Libertyville.
“I imagine that as our knowledge of the brain and the brain’s function increases, especially in terms of neuroscience, our ability to contribute as neuropsychologists will continue to grow,” she adds.
Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology that’s primarily concerned with how a brain injury or illness influences a person’s thinking skills and behavior. Most commonly, Baldassarre evaluates patients with dementia, stroke, seizure disorders, brain tumors, brain injuries and autoimmune diseases.
“I’m a bit of a nerd,” she laughs. “I love learning about psychology and neuroscience, which really marry perfectly in the field of neuropsychology. It’s a great way to combine my primary interests.”
Typically, a neurologist will refer a patient with a brain injury or illness to Baldassarre for a neuropsychological evaluation. With pencil and paper, and sometimes a computer, she discovers a patient’s strengths and weaknesses regarding specific brain functions.
“At times, there will be a lot of clarification necessary on my end in terms of a diagnosis,” she says. “Most often, since a neurologist is a first point of contact, they will have done a preliminary diagnostic work-up that includes imaging and laboratory testing. So, we’ll have a working diagnosis at that point, but then I’ll be able to complete my evaluation and contribute cognitive and behavioral data to aid in diagnostic clarification.”
Unlike a CT scan or an MRI scan, which show the structure of the brain, the assessment Baldassarre does evaluates how well the brain performs certain functions, which leads to improved diagnostic clarity.
“It helps make diagnosis pretty precise,” she says. “Neuropsychology is a specialty service that adds an additional layer of care.”
With a better understanding of the patient’s condition, Baldassarre can recommend specific treatments to help improve a patient’s quality of life.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one patient in particular who’s made a big impact on me because all patients over the course of my career have really shaped me as a person and as a clinician,” she says. “I really value each patient interaction that I have, because ultimately, patients help me to become a stronger clinician.”
Dr. Megan Baldassarre, PsyD, ABPP-CN, is board-certified in clinical neuropsychology. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She then attended The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, where she obtained her doctorate in clinical psychology, with a specialization in neuropsychology. She completed her internship (’14) and fellowship (’16) in Adult Neuropsychology/Brain Imaging at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. She joined Northwest Neurology in May 2018 and resides in Chicago with her fiancé.