For over 40 years, LaPointe has been studying disorders of the brain, as a clinician, researcher, and teacher.
Francis Eppes Professor, Communication Disorders
If your brain has become damaged—through an accident, as a casualty of war or disease—the result can be an inability to write or even speak your own name. The neurosurgeon has done all he can, the medicine has done what it is designed to do, yet you are still not “you.”
That’s where therapy comes in, the retraining or creation of new systems in your brain. “Unique and innovative strategies are now being developed,” says Leonard La Pointe, the Francis Eppes Professor of Communication Disorders. “We’re seeing reorganization and reactivation of pathways and patterns in the brain, and are able to document changes on the volume, structure, and component parts of the central nervous system that are being used. It’s an exciting era for research.”
For over 40 years, La Pointe has been studying disorders of the brain, as a clinician, researcher, and teacher. He began his training in a Denver army hospital during the Vietnam War. “It was a tragedy, particularly with so many casualties of brain damage,” he says. Yet the experience was invaluable. “If I had not had a lot of clinical studies, I don’t know how I would approach my teaching or define a research agenda.”
Since that earlier time the success rates have increased, which is due, in part, to La Pointe’s “fighting to convince other professionals that therapy is worth the effort.” His cross-institutional, cooperative research in the 1980s helped establish the effectiveness of therapy for aphasia and stroke victims. “My heart remains with the clinical applications of research. The quality of life and return to wellness, as well as the cognitive problems seen in Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, stroke, and other degenerative diseases are of interest to us,” says La Pointe.
Patients with diffuse brain damage must also be reintegrated back into society. “They do fine,” says La Pointe, “until they encounter distractions.” Patients’ frustration, in turn, has influenced his current research on the effects of interference and competition on cognitive and linguistic processing. In fact, La Pointe, together with Gerry Maitland, a neurologist in the College of Medicine, recently initiated collaborative research between Florida State and Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare. Already, the Neurolinguistic-Neurocognitive Rehabilitation Research Center has active collaborations with research laboratories in Montreal, Hong Kong, Japan, and Australia.
A desire to improve the lives of others is essential in the field of Communication Disorders. “You work with people who have major, life-altering problems.” His selection of graduate students, therefore, is affected by the values they hold, which La Pointe then tries to nurture. “These students are not interested in materials acquisition; they want to help someone.”
Reflecting on his students La Pointe says, “Those students you devote much time to, who were nervous in the beginning, you watch them gain independence and develop a research or clinical reputation, sometimes a reputation greater than that of the nurturer. It’s a reward that gives me the most pleasure.”