Women learn to live healthier lives at Rancho conference

DOWNEY - Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center convened its first annual Women's Health Conference last Saturday. The conference focused on the remarkable new programs Rancho is developing to provide comprehensive patient centered care for women with disabilities and the mind/body/spirit connections that lead to better health for women."Discussions ranged from stroke prevention to meditation and the benefits of dark chocolate," said Rancho Chief Medical Officer Mindy Aisen. "This highly successful conference put into sharp relief how far women have come in the world of medicine. And as always, Rancho is leading the way." "It was not long ago that women were excluded from scientific medical trials, because of worries that an unknown pregnancy in a participant would create humanrights violations," Aisen continued. "As a result, for decades the potential effectiveness and complications for new medications in women versus men were not considered important issues in the practice of medicine. Differences in longevity were attributed to women having 'easier lives' while their husbands worked themselves to death." Late in the 20th Century this prevailing view in medicine changed. Variances in responses to medical treatments, prevalence of medical conditions and intense analyses of lifestyles led to important discoveries that showed how race, gender and experience and environment matter. "In no group are gender disparities more important than in people with disabilities and persons aging into disability, Dr. Aisen said. For example, presenter Amy Towfighi, MD, Rancho's Chair of Neurology and an internationally recognized researcher, pointed out that women are now just as susceptible to strokes as men, and in certain age ranges, women are more likely to have a stroke than men with similar health status. Dr. Towfighi, who in just three years has taken Rancho's acute stroke and neurology center from inception to handling the highest number of acute strokes of any Los Angeles County hospital, counseled the attendees on the importance of knowing the stroke warning signs. "While most people know that chest pains need to be checked out to rule out a heart attack, those same individuals often ignore the warning signs of stroke such as numbness in the hands or arms or a loss of vision," Dr. Towfighi said. "It's amazing how many people think neurologic damage from a stroke will just go away…and it could cost them their lives." Conference Chair Yaga Szlachcic, MD, the Chief of Rancho's Department of Medicine and Chair of Cardiology, heads Rancho's program for Women with Spinal Cord Injuries. This award-winning program, one of only a handful of comprehensive programs of its kind in the world, is being broadened to include all types of disabling illnesses and injuries. Dr. Szlachcic offered a number of tips for healthy aging based on current research and her experience treating thousands of women with health challenges. "First, only exercise on the days you eat," she said. "You also want to avoid extreme diets, and eat foods that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat with at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. And be sure to avoid foods your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." She also admonished attendees to be moderate in alcohol use, periodically have their blood pressure checked and blood taken for sugar and cholesterol, and to avoid smoking. She also discussed the importance of cultivating family and friends and staying informed about developing trends in health. Rancho endocrinology and diabetes expert Stefan Bughi, MD gave a delightful presentation that provided many examples of how to use breathing and walking techniques to reduce daily stress through meditation. He also offered several quotes about stress, including Henry Kissinger's "There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full" and John De Paola's "Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you." USC Professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience & Pediatrics and robotic wizard Maja Mataric, PhD spoke about how the social robots she is developing in her lab will someday become companions for individuals with disabilities. She also explained howher research has demonstrated that individuals with disabilities prefer working with a "social robot" that can become a companion, rather than working with a voice over the telephone or in a telemedicine encounter over the Internet. "We believe robots will play a significant role in improving the long-term health of individuals with disabilities," Dr. Mataric said. "That's why are teaming with Rancho and the Los Amigos Research & Education Institute (LAREI) to pursue major research grants in this area. We have the robots, and Rancho has the patients who can help us discover how to maximize the positive effect of the interaction between persons with disabilities and robots." Conference attendees also learned ways to control gum disease and prevent its harmful effects on the heart, from Rancho Associate Chief Medical Officer and Dentistry Department Chair Terrie De Bord, DDS and how to get beneficial daily exercise while sitting from exercise specialist Antonia M. Roull. The conference marked the debut of a stunning new photography exhibit entitled "The Women of Rancho," featuring extraordinary portraits of 17 Rancho women leaders created by renowned photographer Michael Ziegler. Rancho Los Amigos Foundation and LAREI provided the funding for the Women's Conference. All attendees also received a brochure including women's inspirational quotes for a happy life, including one from Louisa May Alcott: "Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them and try to follow where they lead." Dr. Szlachcic announced that because of the success of the conference, the Rancho team has already started working on next year's event. "This was an uplifting and fun way to learn about strategies for successful aging," said Downey civic leader Beverly Mathis. "I'm already looking forward to next year's Rancho Women's Conference!"

********** Published: November 4, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 29