The last 10 years has been marked by a significant expansion in the use and utilization of neuropsychology for diagnostics, patient care, and research. This expansion has both necessitated and benefited from a rapidly growing research base which utilizes neuropsychology to characterize the effects of disease on neurobehavioral function and the effects of intervention on disease. To date, very few diseases or disorders affecting the central nervous system have been left untouched. The breadth of this expansion is ever present throughout the “Handbook of Medical Neuropsychology: Applications of Cognitive Neuroscience” edited by Armstrong and Morrow (2010) with chapters on topics ranging from learning disabilities to rehabilitation. And, as the reader will find, many chapters within this volume provide a detailed review of a subsample of these newer applications.
This compilation of works is grossly organized into eight sections covering diseases of the nervous system, vascular risk and disease, developmental, genetic, and structural disorders, aging and disorders of aging, as well as sections on immune-mediated, endocrine, and metabolic diseases. Finally, there is small section dedicated to rehabilitation although this provides little more than a brief glance into this complex field.
The strength of this collection is found within the first section on primary nervous system diseases with an interesting chapter authored by Joseph Tracy and colleagues on epilepsy, a thought provoking chapter by the editor and her colleagues on neuro-oncology and finally a chapter by Cecilia Peralta on multiple system atrophy in which the reader will find a useful overview of symptom presentation and related neuroanatomy. I believe the reader will find the topic of epilepsy well-covered in Chapter 1 with an in-depth discussion of long-term potentiation. This is followed by an interesting chapter on traumatic brain injury in which the author includes an often neglected discussion of the multifactorial nature of executive function deficits in this population as well as an important discussion on the qualitative aspects of neuropsychological performance. The third chapter within this first section has a focus on neuropsychological function in neuro-oncology. The authors present a comprehensive network approach describing not only the focal effects of disease and treatment, but highlighting the impact of tumor via biochemical responses, network disruption, and diffuse dysfunction. The inclusion of a discussion of neuropsychiatric comorbidities is a welcome addition. This latter discussion of neuropsychiatric comorbidities are also highlights of other chapters scattered throughout the book including those on respiratory disorders (Chapter 8) and cerebrovascular disease and disorders (Chapter 6). A similarly interesting section on neurocognitive theories of depression can be found in the chapter on Multiple Sclerosis (Chapter 18).
Outside of the first part of the book and the above referenced chapters are a number of other contributions to highlight. Those interested in Autism will find a nice review of imaging advances in Chapter 10. A similarly nice contribution is the review of the effects of autoimmune disease on brain structure and metabolism in Chapter 19 where the reader will also find a succinct review of the imaging modalities and what they measure.
An additional highlight can be found in Chapter 16 where one finds not only a nice overview on popular theories of cognitive aging and the effects of aging on cognition but also a very important discussion on the effects of age on variability in functional changes with aging. This discussion is crucial not only in the area of cognitive aging but also in virtually all patient populations and many times is neglected in discussions of neuropsychological function.
The book has an ambitious scope which in parts sacrifices scientific depth but the editors are to be commended for their effort to cover the breadth of knowledge in a field that has so rapidly expanded. Future editions would benefit from more directed summaries in keeping with the title as very few chapters meet the expectation of a Handbook and would be strengthened by the addition of more specifics on the psychometrics and application of existing tests by medical condition which is a critical element for any such endeavor. Finally, although one strength of this edited volume is its breadth, it is also a weakness as the organization of this edited volume makes the content difficult to follow. However, this volume is an ambitious and important starting point in an ever changing and complex field.