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Posted April 11, 2014
“A Woman’s Journey” Empowers and Educates Women on Today's Top Health Care Issues

A Woman's Journey

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Three top experts in the fields of sleep disorders, Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer stirred awareness and emotions Friday at "A Woman's Journey," a Johns Hopkins Medicine event that focused on empowering and educating women on pressing health care issues.

The presentation, the final stop in a three-day series for friends of All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine around the Tampa Bay region, concluded at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and keyed on the latest advances in women's health as well as disease prevention in these fields.

Prior to the talks, ACH president and physician in chief Jonathan Ellen, M.D. spoke of the mission shared by All Children's and Johns Hopkins Medicine since they aligned in April 2011.
 
"Our goal at All Children's Hospital, a Johns Hopkins institution, is on excellence," he said. "We strive for excellence in the care of patients and their families.  We see ourselves as trusted stewards of children and their families in the state and the country.  We are on a journey to be worthy of this trust.  And many of you here are on that journey with us and remain consistent and essential partners."

The three presenters spoke to a packed and appreciative crowd in the Vinoy ballroom and included:

  • Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., Associate Professor of Neurology and Director of Neuro-Sleep Division Department of Neurology.

     

  • Psychiatrist Peter V. Rabins, M.D., the Richman Family Professor for Alzheimer's and Related Diseases of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and co-author of The 36-Hour Day and author of The Why of Things.

     

  • Lillie Shockney, R.N., B.S. M.A.S., University Distinguished Service Associate Professor of Breast Cancer, Departments of Surgery, Oncology, and Gynecology and Obstetrics; Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing; Administrative Director, the Johns Hopkins Breast Center; and a cancer survivor herself.

The first speaker, Dr. Gamaldo, discussed the role hormones can play in sleep and how that role changes as women age. She explained how sleep disorders are evaluated and treated and when they may signal a serious underlying condition. Dr. Gamaldo described sleep as "an essential biological need as powerful as the drive to breath, to eat and to drink." Women, she said, are uniquely susceptible to having sleep disorders and stressed that average adults needs 7-9 hours of sleep nightly to function at their best.

But what happens when one is deprived of necessary sleep? Dr. Gamaldo spoke about tests with a mouse, which was given all the essential biological elements for survival (food, water, air) except for sleep. "After two weeks of depriving that mouse of sleep, the mouse died," she stated.

She also underscored her presentation with an array of head-turning statistics related to sleep disorders based on research: $80 billion is the estimated cost connected to sleep-related problems; 60 million people fit the criteria for a sleep disorder; 36-percent of people admit that during a given month they have dozed off behind the wheel of a car; and 50 percent of people over the age of 65 have sleep complaints.

She stressed the importance of developing a bedtime routine and sticking to it and avoiding "going to bed with a very full stomach or hungry because that actually stimulates the brain." Other tips: give yourself time to decompress; "go unplugged" from distracting electronics; and create a cool, dark sleep environment.

Dr. Rabins talked about memory loss associated with aging and distinguished between age-related dementias and Alzheimer's disease. He also detailed intervention strategies and the importance of mental, physical and social activity in maintaining cognitive abilities and memory. "This is an exciting time, but we're still waiting for breakthroughs," he said.

The "revolution," as he termed it, is the realization that "everything now is 'genes plus environment' and our job as scientists and educators is to figure out this interaction between the two." He referred to one study that suggests that the more education people have, the more protected they are against developing Alzheimer's. High cholesterol and obesity can also contribute to the risk of getting the disease. In addition, the single largest risk factor is physical inactivity.

The most emotional portion of the morning belonged to Shockney, who triggered laughter and tears in the crowd with her own personal story as a breast cancer survivor. She stressed how the effects of cancer persist long after treatment and impact the lives of cancer survivors and their loved ones, particularly the children of breast cancer patients. Shockney has written eight books and many articles on breast cancer, serves on the medical advisory board of several national breast cancer organizations and is the co-founder and vice president of a national non-profit organization called "Mothers Supporting Daughters with Breast Cancer."

To illustrate how far treatment has come over the past 50 years, Shockney spoke of a breast cancer survivor she had met when she was a young girl. The woman had been told by her doctor that she would need a radical mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. But even with all that treatment, the doctor impersonally advised the woman that she should still go home that day and get her affairs in order because he didn't believe she would live more than five months.

"She said, 'I am going to undergo all this treatment, but I don't have time today to get my affairs in order because I'm going to be too busy living, and I just made a list of all the things I want to achieve before I leave this world and having met you today, I've added something to that list: And that is to outlive you.' "

Laughter swept through the room, punctuated by Shockney's kicker: the woman lived for 21 more years, three longer, it turns out, than the cold-hearted doctor.


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