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Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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National Safety Month calls for an ounce of prevention →

Jun 25, 2015, by Mike McNulty, in General News

June is National Safety Month, an annual observance designed to educate the public about habits, tools and behaviors that can limit otherwise preventable injuries and deaths.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of every three older adults aged 65 or older falls each year. Among this population, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries, the direct medical costs of which are estimated at $34 billion annually.

The good news is that, according to gerontologist and health services researcher Natalie Leland at the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and the USC Davis School of Gerontology, a few easy fixes can drastically increase in-home safety.

The research focuses on, among other topics, falls incurred among nursing home patients. Leland recently received a research grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to better define quality measures for hip fracture care in order to evaluate — and eventually improve — the quality of post-acute care rehabilitation.

Leland offers her five simple tips to improve safety in and around home environments:

1) Keep traffic paths clear of potential hazards such as furniture, slippery rugs, household clutter and electric wires or cords.

2) Stay active — strength, coordination and balance are important abilities that can help prevent falls.

3) Keep adequately hydrated by consuming fluids, especially during the summer months, because dehydration can lead to cognitive changes, such as confusion, which increases the risk of falling.

4) Wear well-fitting and maintained footwear, which are safer than shoes with worn soles or treads or which do not fit properly.

5) Ensure smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector batteries are replaced on a regular basis so that loved ones don’t have to climb ladders to replace them and to provide adequate notice in case of emergency.

Alumna Attempts Ninja Warrior Course for Cause →

Jun 23, 2015, by Mike McNulty, in General News Alumni News

Standing at the starting line of the world’s most notorious obstacle course, USC Chan alumna Karly Streisfeld MA ’05 took a deep breath and mentally visualized her route through the challenges looming ahead.

As a competitor on the June 22 episode of the NBC competition television series American Ninja Warrior, Streisfeld would need to muster all her strength, agility and endurance to successfully navigate ominous obstacles, including a series of suspended tire swings and a 14-foot-tall concave wall.

Streisfeld, to her advantage, knows what it takes to optimize performance of the human body. She is an occupational therapist at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, the nation’s third-largest public hospital where she specializes in physical rehabilitation of patients with trauma-related conditions such as stroke, brain and spinal cord injuries.

When she isn’t busy improving her patients’ quality of life, the lifelong athlete can often be found building her own body’s physical capacities at her hometown gym or with area fitness groups.

“I tend to think very biomechanically, like physical therapists do,” Streisfeld says, “but I became an occupational therapist because of our more holistic perspective on health and wellness, and I’ve realized more and more how I can really integrate both of those approaches into my rehab practice.”

The times when she is neither at work nor working out, Streisfeld volunteers with Haiti Rehab Project, a non-profit organization that provides medical care, supplies, equipment and education to disadvantaged and disabled populations in the poverty-stricken country.

Streisfeld first traveled to the island nation in the aftermath of the country’s devastating 2010 7.0-magnitude earthquake, and has since made several more return trips to construct low-cost medical devices, establish a clinic and train local partners to provide community-based rehabilitative therapy in remote rural areas where care is otherwise scarce. She also witnessed both the inflow of international aid following the earthquake and, more recently, its outflow.

“There is still a lot of work to be done in Haiti,” Streisfeld says. “People are still living in emergency tents that were only meant to be temporary shelters. So much aid has been pulled out. The world needs to know that the rebuilding job isn’t complete.”

So it should come as no surprise that, when a friend suggested the avid fitness enthusiast audition for American Ninja Warrior earlier this year, Streisfeld immediately knew she could raise visibility among a national television audience to a cause greater than herself.

After submitting an audition video, show producers invited her to attempt the qualifying course in Orlando, Fla., in May. Cheering along the course sidelines were two of her Haitian partners flown in especially for the taping, one of whom was among the first above-knee amputees from the earthquake to receive a prosthetic limb. Thanks in part to Streisfeld’s guidance, he now crafts prosthetic limbs for his fellow Haitian amputees.

With supporters rooting her on, Streisfeld took off down the course and easily flew through the first obstacle. But she soon met her match in the rolling log—a synthetic “log” to which competitors desperately cling and spin upon while rotating down an decline—as she was cast off into the disqualifying water pool below.

But Streisfeld, an eternal optimist, knows her cause won’t be slowed by her defeat on the course. She expects the awareness and fundraising she began prior to her television appearance to only continue gaining momentum.

“I wanted to use American Ninja Warrior as a platform for the vital work being done by Haiti Rehab Project,” Streisfeld says. “That’s what I’ve done and what I will continue to do, for a country and people who need it most.”

Record-setting $3.1M NIH grant to improve dental experience for children with autism →

Jun 10, 2015, by Mike McNulty, in General News

A five-year, $3.1 million-dollar National Institutes of Health research grant has been awarded to the USC Chan Division to further study an intervention which adapts sensory stimuli inside the dental office environment to decrease children’s anxiety and negative responses during oral care. This is the largest single research grant awarded in the history of the USC Chan Division.

Professor Sharon Cermak will be the principal investigator of the Sensory Adapted Dental Environments to Enhance Oral Care for Children, or “SADE-2” study, funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). SADE-2 is a continuation of Cermak’s research which has been funded by a NIDCR planning grant since 2011.

The randomized controlled trial will enlist 220 children—110 of whom have autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—and measure both their physiological anxiety and uncooperative distressed behaviors during dental cleanings. These responses to a typical dental environment will be compared to those elicited in a sensory adapted dental environment providing visual, auditory and tactile stimulation during dental treatment.

Examples of sensory alterations include kaleidoscopic lighting effects projected onto the ceiling, rhythmic music played through speakers and a “butterfly wrap” which envelops the child’s body with a calming “hugging” pressure.

Cermak and her collaborators want to better understand why the adapted dental setting works and for which children it will be the most effective. Interdisciplinary team members include José Polido, division head of dentistry at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and assistant professor at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC; Marian Williams associate clinical professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC; Leah Stein, postdoctoral fellow at the USC Chan Division; Michael Dawson, professor of psychology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; and Christianne Lane, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School.

“We want to look at if it’s more effective for younger children or older children—or is it more effective for children with sensory issues or anxiety issues,” Cermak said. “Or is it more effective for higher functioning children or children who may be lower functioning—and does that make a difference?”

Kaleidoscopic lighting effects projected onto the ceiling of a dental clinicAs many parents can testify, distressing experiences at the dentist are common. According to a 2010 survey of nearly 400 parents of children with autism, almost two-thirds reported “moderate to extreme” difficulty with oral cleaning at the dental office. A 2012 study conducted by a team of USC researchers found that 18 percent of parents of children with autism reported the use of restraint “often” or “almost always” during dental visits.

“A lot of kids are really afraid of going to the dentist,” Cermak said. “All of these factors are really uncomfortable for children, particularly those with autism,” who are more sensitive to stimuli.

If successful, the intervention has the potential to transform clinic-based dental care for the growing population of children with ASD as well as for typically developing children with dental anxiety and/or sensory over-responsivity. Not only does it have potential to increase comfort for children during oral care, the researchers will also examine whether the sensory adapted environment might facilitate safer, more efficient and less costly dental treatments.

The SADE-2 study continues building upon Cermak’s previous pilot research conducted from 2011 to 2015, the preliminary positive results of which were published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities and a feasibility discussion of which was published in the May/June issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

$2.1M NIH Grant Will Use Brain Imaging to Study Autism Deficits →

Jun 8, 2015, by Mike McNulty, in General News

A five-year, $2.1 million-dollar National Institutes of Health research grant has been awarded to the USC Chan Division to use neuroimaging technology to better understand the relationships between brain activity patterns and social and motor deficits exhibited by children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Associate professor Lisa Aziz-Zadeh will be the principal investigator of the study, titled “The Neurobiological Basis of Heterogeneous Social and Motor Deficits in ASD,” which is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The dollar amount awarded makes this the fifth-largest research grant in USC Chan Division history.

Autism spectrum disorders are a leading cause of disability among children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the current autism prevalence rate in the United States at 1 in 68 children, and some estimates calculate that ASD incurs an annual societal cost of almost $137 billion.

Studying the neurobiology of ASD is complex due to the heterogeneity—the diverse variation—of associated symptoms, including both social and motor deficits, within people who have autism.

In order to better understand the activity patterns occurring within the brain of people with ASD, Aziz-Zadeh will lead a team of researchers at the USC Chan Division and Brain and Creativity Institute at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences using functional magnetic resonance imaging technology to observe children’s neural brain patterns while performing motor and social processing tasks. By doing so, researchers hope to better isolate and understand the interactions between participant’s social and motor symptomologies, activity occurring in social and motor brain networks and the functional connectivity between these networks.

“Our study will be the first to show how social and motor deficits relate to brain activity in social and motor networks and connectivity between them,” said Aziz-Zadeh. “The results will allow us to better understand the range of neurological deficits in ASD and generate data to guide individualized therapies.”

USC Chan Aligns with the HollyRod Foundation to Focus on Common Needs of Those Affected by Autism →

Jun 4, 2015, by Mike McNulty, in General News

The USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy has aligned with the HollyRod Foundation as part of the division’s ongoing commitment to understanding and providing family-centered resources to those with autism spectrum disorder.

“USC is home to a community of scientists and clinicians who are engaged in research and treatment to ensure that children, adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorders and their families can fully thrive,” said Dr. Florence Clark, associate dean and chair of the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

Together, HollyRod and USC strive to support the immediate needs of families and individuals affected by autism. From day-to-day needs of the family such as ensuring each member has a valued role to prevocational training of the diagnosed child for successful transition into adulthood, the partnership hopes to empower all individuals that are impacted by an autism diagnosis. 

The HollyRod Foundation was started in 1997 by actress Holly Robinson Peete and former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete ’89 after the Peetes’ eldest son, RJ, was diagnosed with autism. The foundation helped create RJ’s Place—safe havens in children’s hospitals and autism centers across the country that provide refuge for siblings of those with autism who might accompany them to treatment.

Rodney Peete said, “Holly and I are thrilled that our dream of helping families living with autism is supported through a partnership with my alma mater. We know firsthand that the annual cost for quality care is over $60,000 per child, which is far too high for most families to bear. We are truly excited to help these families provide their child with a solid start and to find ways to provide support throughout that child’s lifetime.”

“This unique alignment between the USC and the HollyRod Foundation will accelerate our mission of enabling people to realize their optimal potential for participation in the everyday activities that make life meaningful,” Clark said.

USC is uniquely positioned to improve the lives of individuals and families living with autism. With top-ranked schools of engineering and cinematic arts, the number one ranked occupational therapy program in the nation, and a clinical partner at one of the country’s leading children’s hospitals, we are bringing our expertise across disciplines to bear on a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of children, adolescents, adults, and their families. USC researchers and clinicians have a long history of collaboration and partnership. This spirit of cooperation enables USC to leverage our remarkable existing research and clinical talent, catalyzing our efforts to transform the lives of individuals living with autism and their loved ones.

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