What is a Neurological Exam and How it is Carried out in Children

A neurological exam or neuro exam refers to a total assessment of a child’s nervous system and its functioning. It is an important aspect in evaluating the neurological and mental development of a child. A neurological exam is non-invasive and is carried out using certain instruments like reflex hammers and lights. This exam is carried out routinely at low income medical clinics for an accurate analysis of the neural health among children.

The neuro exam covers many of the important factors related to the health of the neural systems. To evaluate this, the physician will use several tests and examinations such as the assessment of motor and sensory skills, coordination and balance, reflexes, level of awareness and interactivity, and the nerve functioning. The nature of the exam varies from simple to elaborate ones depending upon several key aspects such as the initial nature of the problem, age, and the condition of the child.

Importance of Neurological Exam

Carrying out a neurological exam is highly important as it can help to identify any issues with the nervous system before it gets worse. Any damage or lack of normal growth in the nervous system can interfere with the proper development and functioning of a child. This is why early detection of any neurological disorders is of vital importance. Furthermore, it will also aid in formulating an effective treatment option for the child and thus prevent any future complications.

A neurological exam is carried out in many cases such as in a routine physical test, for newborns, to understand the progression of a disease, and for evaluating any sort of birth defects. It is also carried out if the child experiences headaches, blurry vision, fatigue, lack of balance or coordination, behavioral changes, seizures, tremors, garbled speech, or has had a head, back or neck injury.

Areas of a Neurological Exam

In a neurological exam, the health professional will undertake many tests to determine whether the nervous system is functioning normally. A neurological exam is basically focused on some of the key areas, as described below.

Mental Status – It refers to the awareness level and interactivity exhibited by the child. This area is assessed by observing the interaction of the child with their parents or by asking them to follow guidelines and answering questions. For older children, the assessment will be carried out on the clarity of speech and sense.

Motor Function and Balance – This is another crucial area that is carried out by promoting the child to carry out certain physical action using their hands or legs such as pushing, pulling, jumping, hopping, and skipping. It also involves evaluating the body balance of the child by observing their walking and standing postures.

Sensory Exam – This is carried out to determine the ability of the child to feel and sense objects using the sense organs. It is carried out mainly using certain instruments like tuning forks, needles, alcohol swabs, etc. The sensory exam also tests the reaction of the child to certain sensation such as hold, cold, sharp, dull, etc.

In newborns and infants, several types of reflexes are tested to determine their normal functioning. These reflexes include blinking, crawling, plantar reflex, tonic neck reflex, Moro reflex, etc. For older children, a reflex hammer is used to evaluate the muscle stretch reflexes in different parts of the body.