Louisianians of the Year

Eight of Our Favorites Making This State Great

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Health Care

Wanda Spurlock RN, DNS

Baton Rouge
Associate professor, Southern University and A&M College, School of Nursing
Inductee- Louisiana State Nurses Association Hall of Fame

Offering Care and Meeting the Challenges of Dementia

Caring for a person who is in a fragile mental or emotional state is tough and demanding work. Add to that challenge the complications of advancing age and memory loss, and you have one of the most difficult jobs a medical professional will ever face.

Wanda Spurlock has built a 36-year career on exactly that combination of impossible tasks. As both a registered nurse and an educator, she has concentrated most of her life’s work in the fields of psychiatric and geriatric care.

More specifically, she has focused on dementia care and Alzheimer’s research, areas that tend to attract fewer practitioners because the challenges of communicating with patients are so great.

Spurlock says she likes the work because it requires relying on her own creativity and intuition in addition to “all the tools and gadgets” common in most medical care. “You have to give more of yourself in order to communicate and establish a therapeutic relationship,” she says. “I enjoy using myself as a therapeutic tool.”

A professor in Southern University’s School of Nursing, Spurlock has earned many accolades for her dedication to improving care for elderly people suffering from dementia-related diseases. In the past year, her work has landed her in the Louisiana State Nurses Association Hall of Fame, and she has also received the Nightingale Award for Outstanding Community Service.

Spurlock is a well-known volunteer, a nationally certified nurse educator and a fellow of the National Gerontological Nursing Association.
A Baton Rouge native, she graduated in 1976 from Our Lady of the Lake School of Nursing and later earned a doctorate in nursing science from LSU Health Sciences Center. It was in between those programs that Spurlock says “a light bulb came on” and she knew what she wanted to do.
Having grown up as the youngest of six siblings in a household she says was “all about character, a good work ethic and following your passion,” Spurlock says her large extended family brought her close to older role models.

“I always held elderly people in high esteem, and when I started working in psychiatric services, I saw myself being pulled toward older patients, especially those who had cognitive impairment,” she says.

Spurlock says that Alzheimer’s Disease poses a growing threat in a country whose population is aging, especially given the fact that no cure is in sight. “We don’t have a way to prevent it or even slow down its progression,” she says, pointing out that the need for mental health and geriatric care professionals, already in short supply, will only grow.

“We need more people with specialized skills to offer higher levels of care to the growing number of older adults in need,” she says.
 

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