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Medicine LibreTexts

16: The Neurological Exam

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  • The nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord as the central organs, and the ganglia and nerves as organs in the periphery. The brain and spinal cord can be thought of as a collection of smaller organs, most of which would be the nuclei (such as the oculomotor nuclei), but white matter structures play an important role (such as the corpus callosum). Studying the nervous system requires an understanding of the varied physiology of the nervous system. For example, the hypothalamus plays a very different role than the visual cortex. The neurological exam provides a way to elicit behavior that represents those varied functions.

    • 16.0: Prelude to the Neurological Exam
      A healthcare provider can pinpoint problems with the nervous system in minutes by running through the series of tasks to test neurological function that are described in this chapter. You can use the same approach, though not as quickly, to learn about neurological function and its relationship to the structures of the nervous system.
    • 16.1: Overview of the Neurological Exam
      The neurological exam is a clinical assessment tool used to determine what specific parts of the CNS are affected by damage or disease. It can be performed in a short time—sometimes as quickly as 5 minutes—to establish neurological function. In the emergency department, this rapid assessment can make the difference with respect to proper treatment and the extent of recovery that is possible.
    • 16.2: The Mental Status Exam
      In the clinical setting, the set of subtests known as the mental status exam helps us understand the relationship of the brain to the body. Ultimately, this is accomplished by assessing behavior.  Sometimes eliciting a behavior is as simple as asking a question. Asking a patient to state his or her name is not only to verify that the file folder in a health care provider’s hands is the correct one, but also to be sure that the patient is aware, oriented, and capable of interacting with others.
    • 16.3: The Cranial Nerve Exam
      The twelve cranial nerves are typically covered in introductory anatomy courses, and memorizing their names is facilitated by numerous mnemonics developed by students over the years of this practice. But knowing the names of the nerves in order often leaves much to be desired in understanding what the nerves do. The nerves can be categorized by functions, and subtests of the cranial nerve exam can clarify these functional groupings.
    • 16.4: The Sensory and Motor Exams
      Connections between the body and the CNS occur through the spinal cord. The cranial nerves connect the head and neck directly to the brain, but the spinal cord receives sensory input and sends motor commands out to the body through the spinal nerves. Whereas the brain develops into a complex series of nuclei and fiber tracts, the spinal cord remains relatively simple in its configuration,
    • 16.5: The Coordination and Gait Exams
      The role of the cerebellum is a subject of debate. There is an obvious connection to motor function based on the clinical implications of cerebellar damage. There is also strong evidence of the cerebellar role in procedural memory. The two are not incompatible; in fact, procedural memory is motor memory, such as learning to ride a bicycle. Significant work has been performed to describe the connections within the cerebellum that result in learning.