It’s Thursday morning, and Santa Monica resident Rose Kaufman, 99, has an appointment to keep. It’s one she’s looked forward to each week since July 2012, when she first began receiving acupuncture treatments at WISE & Healthy Aging in downtown Santa Monica.
Kaufman is one of a number of seniors who receive treatments — completely free of charge — at the WISE & Healthy Aging’s Community Acupuncture Clinic, a community service that the nonprofit, social service organization offers in a unique collaboration with Culver City-based Yo San University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The Acupuncture Clinic has been in operation for a year and a half, said President and CEO Grace Cheng Braun, with WISE & Healthy Aging providing the space and administrative support, and Yo San University bringing the medical supervision and graduate students who provide the acupuncture treatments.
“It’s a win-win for both organizations,” Cheng Braun said. “As well as for the students who complete valuable, specialized training and the seniors and caregivers who receive relief from chronic pain and feel increased energy as a result of the treatments.”
With a goal of bringing affordable, subsidized acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine care to the Los Angeles Westside community it serves.
Yo San University has many different community projects, including partnerships with the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles pain clinic, the Being Alive HIV/AIDS clinic. and the Venice Family Clinic, according to university Co-founder and Co-chancellor Daoshing Ni.
But the clinic at WISE & Healthy Aging is the only outpatient Yo San program that works entirely with seniors, Dr. Dao said.
Dr. Dao said working with seniors requires special sensitivity.
“You have to be gentle, as some are very frail, and some bruise easily,” Dr. Dao said. ” At the same time, seniors are pretty determined, pretty strong and very committed. If they want to get care, they’ll be there.”
In practical terms, this means that, especially at the beginning, an elderly patient may begin with as few as six or eight of the ultra-fine, sterilized acupuncture needles being applied, whereas a more aggressive treatment might utilize 30 or more, explained Lawrence Lau, the university’s dean of Academic and Clinical Affairs in charge of the master’s degree program.
Dr. Lau said the number of needles is increased as the individual feels more comfortable.
“People who get the treatment have enjoyed it,” Dr. Lau said. “They may not get up off the table and start dancing, but they feel good.”
Dr. Lau and his colleagues have found that seniors’ initial reaction to the idea of needles is about the same as in the general population.
Some are fine with the idea, some are a little wary, and others say, “No way!”
Rose Kaufman had no reluctance about the needles and trying out the WISE Acupuncture Clinic.
She was already getting acupuncture at UCLA when she learned about the new clinic, so recognized the benefit.
“It feels like you’re being needled, because you are!” she said. “They use needles that connect the meridian with the area where the pain is. So they really address your pain spots. For me, that is my whole right side. The acupuncture helps me day by day.”
When Kaufman and others come to the Thursday morning clinic for their treatment, they are escorted to one of three treatment rooms set up in the flexible space of the Edwards Center.
Here, the Yo San interns (two of them master’s degree students and one a doctoral candidate) provide the approximately hour-long treatments. They consist of a detailed history or current status interview followed by careful placement of the acupuncture needles, and then 20 to 30 minutes of very deep relaxation for the patient before the needles are removed.
Sometimes this is followed by Qi Gong, a gentle form of Tai Chi stretching and movement especially well-suited to seniors.
The treatments are supervised by Brady Chin, an experienced acupuncturist and martial arts expert who has a special rapport both with the interns and the seniors they treat.
Since the program’s inception, 15 interns have completed their “externships” at WISE & Healthy — an especially great bonus for the doctoral students, who are specializing in healthy aging, said Yo San President Lawrence J. Ryan.
“Our hope is that they’ll carry that experience with them, and as they become licensed practitioners, some may choose to specialize in the area,” Ryan said.
Kaufman thinks the students are already succeeding. So far, she’s been treated by two of the doctoral candidates, and finds both of them to be “excellent” and” knowledgeable.”
“They are very understanding — I guess the best word is compassionate,” Kaufman said. “Because people are coming in suffering, and because they are hurting, sometimes they’re not all that pleasant. But In this clinic, the practitioners are very efficient, very gentle, and very kind.”
WISE & Healthy Aging’s Cheng Braun and Yo San University’s Drs. Dao, Ryan and Lau hope that many more seniors and their families will hear about the Acupuncture Clinic, and come for the no-fee treatments.
“There is no downside to acupuncture, and the benefit is enormous,” Dr. Dao said. “It can help your body feel younger and feel less pain. I definitely recommend everyone take advantage of it.”
To find out more about the WISE & Healthy Aging Acupuncture Clinic, or to make an appointment, call 310.394.9871. Information is also available online, at www.wisehomecare.org.