Vernon M Neppe MD, PhD,FRCPC, FFPsych, MMed
Director, Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute
The neuropsychiatric mental status or behavioral neurological examination interfaces between psychiatry and neurology. Its object is to evaluate global and focal functions of the cerebral cortex. Never to be neglected on the one side is evaluation of the patient's mental status at a psychiatric level - such features as appearance, consciousness, orientation, intelligence, cognitive functions, affect, motoric behavior, motivation, behavior in the ward, interpersonal relations, insight, judgment and dangerousness.
On the other hand, particular areas of interface in the neurological examination are: level of consciousness, attention span, memory, presence or absence of primitive reflexes such as grasp, pout, snout, palmar mental reflexes, Babinski signs, and basic evaluations of the patient's power and tone. Evaluations of the person's emotions and reaction to stress are also fundamental.
The examples below are of items useful to use in your practice. Behavioral neurological examination consists specifically of the following headings:
Assessment of the neuropsychiatric mental status of the patient is vital in any patient who may exhibit features of possible coarse neurobehavioral disease. One rapid but very inadequate method has involved the 30 point Folstein Mini-Mental Status Examination which is loaded with regard to orientation and memory items (15 out of 30), and which requires very substantial impairment, generally easily clinically diagnosed before the patient scores the 21-23 out of 30 or less generally perceived as clinically relevant. In addition, patients with depression may commonly not score near the 29 or 30 out of 30 expected in the non-demented. Consequently it is neither sensitive nor specific.
A very promising instrument has been developed at the University of Washington, the BROCAS SCAN (Screening Cerebral Assessment of Neppe). This takes 15-30 minutes and involves 40 items. The B of the term BROCAS refers to behavior, and all facets of the Mental Status Examination are compared with the behavioral component. The ROCAS items are made up of two each of R-O-C-A-S: recall, recognition, orientation, organization, concentration, calculation, apraxia, agnosia, speech and sensory motor reflex. The typical items which are useful for students to apply are included below . The following brief behavioral examination exemplified by the Clinical BROCAS SCAN items can be performed:
Orientation is a global cerebral function.
Tests such as middle finger of right hand involve testing of finger parts and testing of right and left orientation. When the right hand moves to touch the left ear, this shifts across the body mid-line involving cross-lateralization. This apparently simple task also involves touching the nose and then the ear and this requires sequential organization. These tasks therefore require additive evaluation in order to adequately interpret them. These functions therefore involve the perceptual, integrative, and executive functions. At the perceptual level, the patient would be agnosic, and this would predominantly reflect posterior parietal pathology. At the integrative-executive level, the patient would be apraxic, and this may reflect frontal lobe pathology. Fibers running between these areas and also leading inferiorly through to, for example, the cerebellum, and involving the motor system make these evaluations more difficult.
Memory function is complex
These functions can be tested individually, and should be. Test global memory functions by interrupting the task and retesting a few minutes later. Visual memory impairment may reflect non-dominant hemispheric involvement, verbal memory dominant hemispheric involvement. Generally these memory functions all reflect particularly hippocampal functioning.
Verbal intelligence can be evaluated by usage of words, by vocabulary, comprehension, digits span forwards and backwards, general knowledge and information, proverb interpretation, ability to perceive similarities and differences.
Tests of calculation reflect specifically defects which are disproportionate to the person's general verbal intelligence. Ask the patient simple addition and subtraction (under 100). Test the limits of his ability. If calculation is disproportionately disturbed, this may reflect parietal lobe functioning, specifically left parietal functioning. At times, however, dyscalculia due to incapacity for spatial organization and numerical operations is more common with right sided lesions.
These tests are, however, poor screens.
Organic mental disorders are a class of disorders of mental functioning and behavior caused by transient or permanent dysfunction of the brain. As these disorders are a heterogeneous group, no single description can characterize them. The differences in clinical presentation reflect differences in localization, mode of onset, progression, duration and nature of underlying pathophysiological processes. There are a great many potential causes of cerebral dysfunction. The underlying cerebral disease or disorder may be primary, such as a brain tumor, or secondary to a systemic dysfunction. Organic mental disorders may occur at any age, but many are more prevalent in the population over 60 years of age.
As psychiatry becomes more biological, it is assumed that all AXIS I disorders have some organic basis. When we used the term Organic Mental Disorder in DSM - III R, we are talking about relative degrees of organicity. The organicity in these disorders involves a clear-cut organic element, sometimes called coarse neurobehavioral syndrome. Clearly these occur at all ages. However, the elderly is a particularly important group. DSM -1V dropped the term organic for such descriptions as "symptomatic" or "due to medical conditions."
Neurobehavioral is a term which is commonly used, particularly in behavioral neurology, and in neuropsychiatry. This term is particularly relevant in describing not only the coarse chronic disorders above, but demarcating a specific lack in DSM IIIR namely episodic or paroxysmal neurobehavioral disorders relating to episodic conditions deriving from a specified condition in the brain such as temporal lobe disorder linked with "spells" of marked lability of affect over hours or episodic rage. "Neurobehavioral" in this context may be perceived as a substitute for "organic", but will not be part of the official terminology. Other possible synonyms that still appear in books and should be recognized are "organic cerebral syndromes", "organic brain syndromes" and "organic psychosis."
The term organic is used in current psychiatric nomenclature, namely DSM-I11R. However, the term organic will not be used in DSM-IV. This is so because most psychiatric illness is based on organic abnormalities - biochemical, anatomic or physiologic: For example, schizophrenia and affective illness are also "organically" based, so the term organic is ambiguous. Instead, in DSM-IV, the broad term "cognitive impairment" will be used. The cognitive impairment disorders include coarse neurobehavioral disorders like dementia and delirium. For those conditions in DSM-IV that have specific etiologies, the term "symptomatic" will be used, so that we talk of symptomatic delusional disorder when Vitamin B-12 deficiency may be causing a delusional condition (as opposed to the current organic delusional disorder).
© Copyright 1997 Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute.