MacNews Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Norman L. Foster, M.D. '73

October 11, 2017 | 2:58 PM

Dr. Norman L. Foster, M.D. ‘73 said he appreciates the liberal arts education he received at MacMurray College now more than ever.

The ways it has come into play for the Director of the Center for Alzheimer’s Care, Imaging and Research (CACIR) and Professor of Neurology at the University of Utah are, though, “completely unpredictable,” he admitted.

  • Recently reading a book on phenomenology, the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness, summoned for Foster the memory of former MacMurray philosophy professor and author Richard Palmer.
  • At the University of Utah, Foster team-taught, with an ethnologist and a music composer, an undergraduate course on Aging and Alzheimer’s, an interdisciplinary approach that included literature, anthropology, music and medicine.
  • The development of what may be a groundbreaking dementia care mobile device, which recently got another round of funding from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, has put to use Foster’s marketing and business skills.

Foster may have known walking into MacMurray that he wanted to be a physician, but “I don’t know if I would have attended so many theatre performances or so many concerts if I hadn’t been exposed to all the disciplines and all the academic areas (I was exposed to),” he said.

The Jacksonville, Ill. native also got a sage piece of advice at his dorm orientation at Michelson Hall.
“(The presenter) told us that this was a rare opportunity to define who we were,” said Foster. “I remembered that.”
A biology and chemistry major who trained at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Foster spent two-plus decades as a faculty member at the University of Michigan where he founded the state’s first dementia clinic before helping establish CACIR.

Foster, who is also a Senior Investigator at The Brain Institute at the University of Utah, has carved out an international reputation in the field of neurology with his research focused primarily on brain imaging. Foster and his colleagues have recently shown that positron emission tomography (PET) imaging that produces 3-D color images of the functional processes within the human body can help distinguish between Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

An active version of the Memory Care Partner, a smartphone application and tablet computer Foster and a team of researchers developed that will provide guidance to patients and families with concerns about memory loss, is currently being tested.

The goals, said Foster, are to help people “better navigate the often daunting process of seeking quality memory loss care” along with providing patients “a high quality of life and keeping social connections.”

“These are difficult discussions to have,” acknowledged Foster, concerning the subject of memory loss. “This is a threat to self-image. It’s disruptive. It requires changes in lifestyles that people are unwilling to take.

“With Memory Care Partner, we’re trying to reach people before they meet the clinical threshold.”

Foster, a presenter at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London earlier this summer, said he’s convinced that time he spent as a youth with older neighbors and his ability to easily communicate with them shepherded his way to the field.

“I’m challenged intellectually by complexity. I rush towards it,” admitted Foster, who received the College’s Young Alumni Award in 1983 and Honorary Doctor of Science in 1995. “I’ve always been attracted by doing things that can make a difference.

“Between those two things, how much more can you ask for?”

- Story by Steven Spearie ’87

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