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Neurological exam

Different parts of the brain control different functions. With a neurological exam, your doctor can get important information about if and how your brain has been affected by stroke.

What to expect

A complete neurological exam involves testing your language and memory skills, behaviour, alertness, vision and eye movements, muscle control, ability to walk and sense of touch. Your doctor will observe how you answer questions and perform simple tasks and will be looking at your ability to:

  • Respond to the examination. If you seem unusually drowsy or not alert, the doctor may suspect a hemorrhage or an injury to the brain stem.
  • Move or use your hands, arms, feet and legs. Among other things, the doctor will compare strength, sensation and coordination on the two sides of the body. For example, dragging the left leg when walking or having a left arm that is significantly weaker than the right may indicate that there has been damage to the right side of the brain.
  • See. Changes in eyesight, such as loss of vision on one side, double vision or the inability to control eye movement all point to strokes in different parts of the brain.
  • Speak, read, write, do math and understand speech. When testing language and memory, the doctor or speech specialist will use simple oral and written tests to check for aphasia (problems speaking, reading, writing, doing mathematics or understanding speech). If you are being tested, you may be asked to repeat words and phrases, count, name objects, remember words, follow simple commands, read and write, and show understanding of what you've read and heard.
  • Think, remember and problem-solve. Your ability to remember things (such as the date or your age and birth date) will be checked, as will your ability to think or problem-solve. Your doctor may also try to determine if there has been any major change in your personality after the stroke. Any change is a clue to the location and extent of the stroke in the brain. For example, people who have a right hemisphere stroke may speak very flatly, with no emotional tone and cadence, or they may appear unconcerned about their sudden disabilities.

Last reviewed: August 2008.