For nearly 30 years, Sue Stillman Linja has worked as a dietitian with geriatric populations in a variety of settings – nursing homes, assisted living centers, rural hospitals and more.
Linja, who owns S & S Nutrition Network and two other nutrition-centric businesses, is taking all of that experience and trying to make a difference in a very serious and personal cause – Alzheimer’s disease. She’s been asked to write a book about her findings on the effect a person’s diet may have on the disease. “My mom died from Alzheimer’s disease,” Linja says. “From my time working with geriatrics, I’ve seen dementia
at its worst. We’re seeing a rise in Alzheimer’s – there’s some staggering statistics out there. It’s the fifth-leading cause of death in the elderly in the United States.”
Linja, a native Idahoan who grew up in Council and graduated from the University of Idaho, is working with current U of I professor SeAnne Safaii-Waite on that project, as well as a book on the diets of centenarians around the world that she hopes will help others lead longer, healthier lives. But before the books are published, Linja and Safaii- Waite will present April 8 at TedXBoise, the all-day “Ted Talks” event at JUMP.
Those who know Linja are not surprised she was one of the few who passed the 3-minute audition.
“She is a champion in her community and a trailblazer in her eld,” writes Crystal Wilson, vice president of Health & Wellness for the United Dairymen of Idaho. “There isn’t a dietitian in the state that wouldn’t name Sue a leader, champion or advocate.”
A part of Linja’s mission is motivated by what she knows about the disease.
“It’s personal,” she says. “I want to find out for myself because your risk goes up when you had a parent with Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t want to go down the same road. I’ve seen how it can ruin the life of not only the person with it, but everyone around them.”
It’s not just the elderly who benefit from Linja’s work. Through her businesses, she has contracts with more than 150 facilities in nine states. She hires 52 dietitians as contract consultants, including 35 in Idaho, from Sandpoint to Ashton and almost everywhere in between. Many are young dietitians getting started in the field, while others are working part time because of family obligations or personal choice.
“Her desire to help others means that she is, and will continue to be, someone that we turn to for help, guidance, and to partner with,” writes Jodi Vanderpool, a vice president at St. Luke’s Health System and a 2015 Women of the Year honoree.
Linja is simply happy to keep helping our aging population and giving back to a profession that she loves.
“We’ve been able to have the dietetic profession continue to flourish when people are in a situation where they can’t work full time,” she says. “We improve the lives of thousands of people at these facilities through improved nutrition – that’s what makes me happiest.”