Friday, June 5, 2009

Interview with Fredrick Blaszka, MD, who Treats Both Military Veterans and Civilians, Accumulating Extensive Experience in the Geriatric Field.

GAA: What problems do you see veterans encountering most in your practice? Are these mental or physical illnesses?

Dr. Blaszka: By far, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the most frequent diagnosis. Veterans are unique among other aging groups. Social perceptions of this disease have changed throughout the years. With World War II and Korean War veterans, these symptoms were not considered a disease in the 1940’s and 50’s. Medically speaking, little was done to assure proper treatment for such cases. In general, society saw such symptoms as something ‘less than manly.’ A very macho attitude dominated the military during this period. No soldier wanted to be treated for something that was seen as cowardly. I can recall the famous incident of General George S. Patton slapping a soldier who had been hospitalized for battle fatigue. Such harsh reprisal to a sick soldier opened US eyes toward such conditions. It wasn’t until the Vietnam War that PTSD emerged as a widely accepted physical and mental consequence of war. Unfortunately, a large number of older veterans (WW2 and Korean War era) spent many years in neglect and suffered even greater consequences of untreated PTSD.

GAA: To what extent do you feel that older persons, veterans and non-veterans alike, are informed and are aware of the risk of HIV/AIDS?

Dr. Blaszka: Just like PTSD, many social taboos surround HIV/AIDS. Many older patients think of themselves as ‘exempt’ from contracting HIV/AIDS. Often, they regard it as disease that only younger people contract. Many racial and socioeconomic prejudices get ascribed to HIV/AIDS. Older patients are not willing to accept their risk at face value. I generally try to promote HIV/AIDS awareness among my patients.

GAA: As a geriatrician, to what extent do you encourage your patients to take an active role in society?

Dr. Blaszka: We have clinical programs that help older persons maintain a healthy lifestyle. The key component is activity. Usually every three to six months patients have a lifestyle evaluation to learn what they need to do to become more active. I always stress that staying socially active is just as important being physically active. Creating weekly habits, like visiting a certain friend or going to some sort of group activity, is essential to living a longer, happier life. I also encourage the physically able to take a part-time job, which in addition to the obvious financial advantage, has tremendous mental benefits as well.

Global Action on Aging thanks Dr. Blaszka for major health issues that he observes as a geriatrician. While these concerns are rooted in specific medical and health circumstances that older persons face, they are made even more difficult social taboos centering around HIV/AIDS and mental disorders.

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