By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
LACOMBE – When considering a career working with children or elderly people, it often seems easier to choose the kids.
After all, they are cute, energetic and fun to be with.
For those who pick a career spending every day with senior citizens, it is usually a strong calling and passion that draws them.
And that is exactly what the Lacombe Nursing Centre found when they hired Samantha Young as the program manager for their rehab services.
Young goes to work at the Lacombe home every day, with more excitement and enthusiasm than most workers have the first day of a new job.
She loves the challenge and the many successes she finds working in rehab with elderly patients, and now with middle-aged patients who are often using the nursing home setting as a place to rehab from injuries.
Young is a licensed speech language pathologist who has a masters in communication disorders. She was surprised to realize in her college years that she was fascinated with dysphagia, a swallowing disorder affecting those with strokes, as well as Parkinson’s Disease and other health issues.
“I wouldn’t have guessed that I would find such a strong interest in this field,” she said. “But I realized I wanted to help people with this problem. It’s really unfortunate to see people, especially the elderly, who have difficulty swallowing.”
To the average individual, the simple act of swallowing is often taken for granted. But for those with different health problems, swallowing becomes a huge challenge.
Young explains there are a multitude of ways to approach the problem, starting with simple rehabilitation efforts to re-teach how to swallow, to working with liquids or foods of different consistencies.
Young discovered her interest in swallowing issues when she worked for two years at the LSU Medical Center, one of the first times she began working more with adults. Initially in school, she was positive her career would be with children.
“I was so certain my career would be with children that I began accumulating a huge collection of resources—tapes, books, many things that I planned to use when I began working with kids,” she said.
But once she started at the LSU Medical Center, she found a new love in working with elderly patients.
“First of all, many people don’t realize how common dysphagia is,” she said. “I had an opportunity to work in studies and research, trying different consistencies of food, and swallowing maneuvers we could teach.”
“But it was also a time I realized how much I loved helping older people regain their life skills,” she said. “I love hearing the backgrounds from older people, and actually, I am the one who ends up learning so much from them.”
The change from children’s work to elderly patients wasn’t the first time Young had a surprising change in her career.
Originally from St. Bernard Parish, she began going to LSU with plans to be a TV anchorwoman. Her original major was mass communications, but she said that changed when she realized how much writing she would have to do.
“I was pretty surprised to learn that people on TV have to write their own copy quite a bit,” she said with a laugh. “So I changed my major mid-way through my first year.”
And the way she found her new career was quite surprising.
“I actually flipped through the college book with all the different majors and read them to see what grabbed my attention,” she said. “When I saw the one about rehabilitation, it resonated with me. I always liked the idea of communicating, and this was a way to communicate information that could help people.”
She began her career at the West Jefferson Medical Center, spending four years in many different settings, but working mostly with adults.
“That was the time that really settled my desire to work in this kind of setting,” she said. “In my last year, I was doing more work in nursing homes and really enjoying the time I could help so many people.”
Young makes it clear the old idea of people being put in nursing homes only to live out their life is not so true anymore.
“We do a lot of rehab work with other age groups, helping them come back from an injury,” she said. “It’s very satisfying to work with anyone and help them get back home and to a functional level.”
Young is so passionate about what she does for the Lacombe Centre that she started a program called Eldergarten, a play on words from Kindergarten. It’s a daily routine for her patients where they attend a “class,” and have a multitude of things to make the day fun and a place for learning.
She and her staff also began a STEPS program, another form of rehab work that adds a measure of fun, with a weekly routine that includes Self-Care & Safety, Transfers, Exercise & Energy, Problem Solving, and Standing & Stability.
For more information on the Lacombe Nursing Centre, call 882-5417.