Did you immediately know you wanted to be a neuropsychologist? What lead you to that career path?
I’ve always been a science fanatic. I was obsessed with chemistry, astronomy and physics since 5th grade. I grew up in Bloomington and attended Indiana University to study chemistry. I took a psychology course to fulfill social science requirements. I found that I liked the mix of the hard sciences and the human side. So, I double majored in chemistry and psychology. My first job out of college was as an analytical chemist, but after a short time, I found that I missed being with people. So I took a job at a nursing home for much less pay. Later, I returned to school for an MA in gerontological psychology from the University of Notre Dame.
I worked from 1979 to 1991 as director of geriatric services for a mental health center in Richmond, Indiana. Among many projects there, I started the first Alzheimer’s family support group in Indiana. We publicized the group for Alzheimer’s families. No one initially showed because no one had heard of Alzheimer’s! That’s how much awareness has changed over the years.
I went on to get a doctorate in neuropsychology from Ball State and came to Fort Wayne in 1991 to take a position as a neuropsychologist with the Fort Wayne Neurological Center.
You mention a blend of hard science and the human side, is that what neuropsychology is?
It’s a field of study of the relationship between the brain and a person’s behavior, emotions and abilities. Clinical neuropsychology addresses the relationship between the injured or diseased brain and those functions. We work with conditions such as strokes, traumatic brain injury, MS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and other dementias as well as learning problems and conditions like autism. Neuropsychology is often seen as a hybrid of neurology and psychology.
Neuropsychology has been around a long time. Before there were brain scans, the neuropsychologist applied tests to help the physician identify where a tumor, stroke or other abnormality was in the brain. Now that those things may be seen, we are more involved with describing the effect of those illnesses or injuries on the abilities or behavior of a person and recommending treatment. In older adults, we can test at multiple points in time to determine the rate of decline of dementia and help the patient and their loved ones know how to meet their needs and prepare for the future.
We have a great team of professionals here at Fort Wayne Neuropsychology with six doctoral level neuropsychologists, six psychometrists who administer the standardized tests used to advise our patients and a host of support staff. We also continue a wonderful and important relationship with our original parent company, Fort Wayne Neurology.
You mentioned astronomy as one of your scientific passions. Do you still get to spend any time looking through a telescope?
We have a very good astronomical society in Fort Wayne so I’m involved with that and with one in Arizona.
I love things related to space. When I was a kid, I followed astronauts as my heroes. Other kids followed sports players.
In 2013, I was selected to be on the crew for a NASA project that studied the effects of long-term confinement on astronauts who would go to Mars. We lived in a 36-foot dome at about 9,000 feet on the side of Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, the most Mars-like terrain on earth. There were six of us…myself and five other crew members who were under the age of 30. They considered me their older brother. I’ve stayed in touch with them and the project and have consulted with NASA since then.
It was kind of a bucket-list goal to do something with space.
What are some of the other items on your bucket list?
Another one was to sing in the chorus of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which I got to do with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic in 2014.
I also want to ride to California on my motorcycle to see the world’s oldest living things: the bristlecone pines. Motorcycles are a passion. I started riding in college and still take long trips on motorcycles. As a neuropsychologist, I probably should know better. I also love collecting and restoring vintage cars.
And, I’d like to go fly-fishing with my son Nick in the Rockies.
Does this mean you’ll be retiring to accomplish your bucket list?
I’m going to try to retire this year. But, I will still have some involvement with this practice. I started it and being able to pass it along is kind of my legacy… I am so proud of this great young team of neuropsychologists we have assembled.