Brain tumours and neurological examinations

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An in-depth look at what is involved in a neurological exam as part of the medical diagnosis of a childhood brain tumour.

Key points

  • The neurological exam consists of a series of tests which will provide your child’s health-care team with insight into the functioning of your child’s cranial nerves and brain.
  • A full neurological exam can take between 10-30 minutes.

Why does my child need a neurological examination as part of a brain tumour diagnosis?

A neurological examination will help to find out which part of your child’s brain is affected by the brain tumour. It may be repeated throughout treatment to see if there are changes that develop over time. Neurological examinations are also an important part of follow-up care for a child with a brain tumour to aid in appropriate supportive measures (e.g., physiotherapy, occupational therapy).

The neurological exam consists of a series of tests. Cranial nerves and certain areas of the brain control the ability to do the most basic things, such as smiling, opening and closing one’s eyes and balancing while walking. All these are tested in a neurological exam.

For instance, in one test the examiner might ask your child age-appropriate questions such as name, birthday or the day of the week. Your child may not remember. This finding suggests there is a problem in the part of the brain associated with memory.

Many patients will also be sent to an eye doctor called an ophthalmologist for further eye tests.

Parents or caregivers may be present during the neurological exam of their child.

What happens during a neurological examination?

Here are some examples of tests that might be done during a neurological exam. Depending on your child’s age and level of development, the tests may be different.

  • Mental status: Your child may be asked the time, the day of the week and the date. They may be asked to repeat a list of objects, describe yesterday’s breakfast and talk about a recent holiday or family gathering. Their level of attention to the person conducting the test will be observed.
  • Cranial nerve functions: Your child may be asked to follow an object with their eyes, to see how well they move. They may be asked to smile, turn their head, shrug their shoulders, stick their tongue out, and open and close their eyes. Your child's reaction to various sounds will be observed.
  • Motor function: To test muscle strength, your child may be asked to grip the examiner’s hand. They may have to hold their arms straight out for 10 seconds with their eyes closed. The examiner may hold your child's arms and legs and ask them to push.
  • Reflexes: The examiner may test your child’s arm, leg and foot reflexes by gently tapping on them with a rubber hammer.
  • Coordination and gait: Your child may be asked to walk on their toes, balance on one foot, and balance with their feet together and their eyes closed. They may be asked to touch their fingers to their nose, and then to the examiner’s finger.
  • Sensory function: Your child’s sense of touch may be tested using various objects such as a pin point or cotton ball.
  • Eye test: Your child will be given a screening eye test. If there are changes in your child's vision, they will be referred to an eye doctor.
Last updated: September 11th 2023