Stephanie Towns, PsyD (an advanced degree in psychology), is a clinical neuropsychologist who evaluates patients with different neurological conditions, including epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, dementia, and traumatic brain injury. She frequently sees patients referred to her due to concerns about memory loss.
Clinical neuropsychologists are trained to evaluate a patient’s behavior and cognitive functioning through detailed interviews and a battery of tests that include a range of tasks, from recalling information to solving puzzles. They then collaborate with a patient’s doctors to help form a treatment plan. “A patient’s MRI image cannot capture everything. We still sometimes need to assess the behavioral expression of brain problems. Someone could be forgetting things or having trouble paying attention or interpreting visual information—my specialty is that behavior expression piece,” Dr. Towns says.
During graduate school, Dr. Towns discovered how much she enjoyed putting together the puzzle pieces of cognitive testing that help determine how a person’s brain is performing. “People are not good at describing their own cognitive function,” she says. As an example, someone might say they have a severe memory problem, but cognitive tests point to a language problem.
“The most rewarding part of my job is telling a person what they can do about the problem. Giving people that sense of hope is important,” Dr. Towns says.
Dr. Towns also dedicates time to her ongoing research into the relationship between sleep and cognition in people with neurological diseases. “Sleep is an intervention point we can target easily and inexpensively to improve someone’s cognition,” she says. Patients with multiple sclerosis, for example, have reported a higher quality of life after changing their sleep habits.
Dr. Towns is an assistant professor of clinical neurology at Yale School of Medicine.