Did you know autism spectrum disorder appears to have its roots in very early brain development? Many signs and symptoms of autism can be observed in the first years of life, so early diagnosis and treatment is essential. Lauren Weaver and Sarah Carpenter from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Treatment and Research for Autism Spectrum Disorders or “TRIAD” joined us on a recent episode of Community Health Matters to discuss autism resources and research available to Tennesseans. View their segment here.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulty communicating and forming relationships with others. ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention, and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances.
There are no physical attributes associated with ASD but the most obvious signs and symptoms tend to emerge between two and three years of age. ASD indicators include delay in language, difficulty making eye contact, pacing back and forth, and other atypical behaviors. People with autism often have their own areas of strength and can excel in visual skills, music, math and art.
If you suspect a child needs to be evaluated for ASD, speak to your pediatrician who can recommend a professional assessment. The most important thing is to get services as fast as possible. There is no cure for autism but there are a variety of effective treatment options.

TRIAD is a program at Vanderbilt that offers assessment, treatment and services for individuals with autism and their families. They are dedicated to improving resources while advancing knowledge and training in the community.

One of their initiatives is SPARK, an online research initiative designed to become the largest autism study ever undertaken in the U.S. The study aims to collect information and DNA for genetic analysis from 50,000 individuals with autism and their families. Their research will advance the understanding of causes of the condition and hasten discovery of supports and treatments. Participation in the study takes place entirely online and participants receive genetic results and compensation.
If you would like to participate in the SPARK study or you think that someone you love would benefit from TRIAD’s services, contact TRIAD at 615-322-7565 or visit www.SparkForAutism.org/vu.

Autism Awareness

Vanderbilt’s Treatment & Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD)’s Lauren Weaver and Sarah Carpenter visited to discuss autism resources and research.

Antibiotic Resistance

Did you know antibiotics are strong medicines, but they don’t cure everything? When used incorrectly, antibiotics can actually be harmful to your health. Dr. Pam Talley, a medical epidemiologist from the Tennessee Department of Health, joined us on a recent episode of Community Health Matters to discuss the growing epidemic of antibiotic resistance. View her segment here.

When we’re sick, we want to feel better as soon as possible. It’s a widespread trend to request antibiotics to speed up the recovery process. But, using antibiotics when they are not necessary can create a dangerous resistance to antibiotics.

Always talk with your healthcare provider about the right medicine for your symptoms. Antibiotics can cure bacterial infections like strep throat, but they cannot cure viral infections like a cold or the flu. Thirty percent of antibiotics prescribed in U.S. are unnecessarily prescribed for viral infections.

The most recent data from the CDC ranks Tennessee 47 out of 51 in terms of number of antibiotics prescribed per 1,000 people. That is two times the rate of antibiotics prescribed compared to some states on the west coast.

The public health professionals in the Tennessee Department of Health are fighting antibiotic resistance in several ways. First, they are trying to prevent illness in the first place by promoting hand hygiene and encouraging flu vaccines for everyone six months and older. Next, they are tracking antibiotic resistant organisms to keep a watch on trends in our state. Finally, they are working with partners across the state on antibiotic stewardship by educating the community on the issue and working with doctors to ensure they prescribe the correct drug at the correct dose for the correct duration.

As a patient, there are a few ways to help prevent antibiotic resistant infections in ourselves and others:

  • Don’t take – or ask your doctor to prescribe – an antibiotic for a viral infection like cold or flu
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly
  • Don’t eat uncooked poultry or meat
  • Take antibiotics exactly as the doctor prescribes
  • Take the antibiotic until it is gone, even if you are feeling better

To learn more about antibiotic resistance and what you can do to help, visit CDC.gov/GetSmart.

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is a growing international health concern. Pam Talley from the Tennessee Department of Health told us about prevention efforts in TN.

Did you know women may experience the symptoms of heart attack differently than men? For American Heart Month, Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley, a cardiologist with Saint Thomas Health, joined us on a recent episode of Community Health Matters to discuss what you should know about heart disease in women. View her segment here.


While other diseases may demand greater public attention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Specifically focusing on women, one in four has heart disease and one in three will die from the disease.

According to Dr. Walton-Shirley, women tend to be multi-taskers who often don’t take the time to focus on their own health. Some risk factors for heart disease are genetic, but many can be avoided. To keep their hearts healthy, it’s recommend that women:

  • Quit or don’t start smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Regularly check blood pressure
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a Mediterranean diet
  • Avoid saturated or trans fats, added sugars and high amounts of salt

The symptoms of a heart attack can also present differently in women. It is widely known that chest pressure is a classic sign of a heart attack, but women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure. Instead, they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure, or extreme fatigue.

If you have any of the signs of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away. It could save your life. For more information on heart disease prevention, visit Heart.org.

February is American Heart Month. St. Thomas Health’s Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley explained to us what you should know about heart disease in women.

Understanding Hospice

Hospice isn’t simply about end-of-life care – it’s about helping patients improve their quality of life and make the most of the time they have left. Anna-Gene O’Neal, president and CEO of Alive Hospice, joined us on a recent episode of Community Health Matters to discuss the importance of hospice and end-of-life care. View her segment here.

Entering hospice care does not mean an individual has given up on life; rather, it indicates a change of focus. The goal of hospice care is to improve the quality of life for persons and their families faced with a life-limiting illness. Hospice is person-centered treatment focused on each individual’s values and preferences. It provides comfort, relieves physical suffering, offers emotional and spiritual healing, promotes dignity at the end of life, and often helps patients create lasting memories with loved ones.

Offered at an individual’s home, hospital or nursing facility, hospice care is tailored to each patient’s unique physical and emotional needs. This allows patients to choose the type of care they receive based on their own beliefs and desires. Family members can rest assured their loved one is comfortable and free of pain. Additionally, hospice offers bereavement support as families begin their journey to overcome grief. For hospice providers, it is truly a privilege to give patients and families the support they need during this difficult time.

Anna-Gene spoke about Ira Byock, known as the founder of palliative care, and his belief that hospice care gives patients the ability to embrace the end of life, and to come to terms with the events of their lives. She shared Byock’s “four things that matter most” – four simple phrases that help patients resolve their relationships with loved ones as they approach their final moments:

  • Please forgive me
  • I forgive you
  • Thank you
  • I love you

When cure is no longer an option, hospice surrounds patients with a care team that includes a hospice physician or medical director along with the patient’s primary care doctor, nurses, home health aides, social workers, chaplains, volunteers and bereavement coordinators.

Alive Hospice is a nonprofit organization that provides compassionate end-of-life care, palliative care, bereavement support and community education. Founded in Middle Tennessee in 1975, Alive Hospice serves more than 3,400 patients and their families annually and provides grief support services for more than 600 adults and children. For more information, visit alivehospice.org.