Thursday, June 11, 2009

The New Timers!

One Tuesday in mid- May, Global Action on Aging (GAA) met with Gail Elberg, Director of All Stars Inc.(ASP), a volunteer driven non-profit organization that embraces three distinct programs: the All Stars Talent Show Network, the Development School for Youth, and the Castillo Theater. Located on West 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenue, the All Stars Project Inc. dates back over 30 years. It has remained independent of government funding in order to ensure its dedication to “promoting human development through the use of an innovative performance-based model.” ASP does leadership training, offering educational and performing arts activities for disenfranchised and minority youth. GAA wanted to know more about ASP’s Senior Theater Workshop, called The New Timers!, led by Director Vicky Wallace and Producer Dr. Susan Massad.

A group of fifteen to twenty older persons, called The New Timers!, refuse to conform to the labels of “senior” or “senior citizen,” thanks to the ASP philosophy that “everyone is a star.” The three-year old program has members ranging from their fifties to their eighties who meet each week to “play and explore issues of growth and development for older Americans” through improvisational games and exercises. The group demonstrates that through performance older people grow and develop. Additionally, many The New Timers double as volunteers at ASP and can be found helping out in the costume shop, the box office, or as house staff. Most members don’t come from theater backgrounds. They can find comfort in the laid-back, experimental atmosphere that facilitates personal growth and group harmony. Improvisation is the primary technique The New Timers! use to create a culture of solidarity. Characteristically diverse as an extension of the All Stars Inc., the group provides a performance space where everyone can find others who will respond and listen. Members say they have benefited tremendously from these experiences, reporting increased ease in talking in front of groups and gaining confidence to join other theater groups as well.

The New Timers! give back to New York City as performers at senior centers where they introduce older New Yorkers to the joys of improvisation. In the past year ASP has visited senior sites such as Encore, JASA, and Penn South; they plan to continue outreach to senior groups. One recent performance was based on a 10-week workshop that focused on “creating one’s day” rather than just keeping busy. Ms. Wallace considers this project as one of the group’s most successful and inspiring. She adds that older persons often see themselves as invisible consumers, limited by the constant barrage of commercialism that targets their age group. Instead, The New Timers! seeks to break through daily routines that promote inactivity by practicing pro-active techniques that help seniors ‘create’ their day. Through exercises such as “laughing yoga,” older New Yorkers find rejuvenation with The New Timers!. It allows anyone and everyone to show their hidden talents, find new ones, and express even their silliest of sides. Thanks to Gail, Vicky, and Susan for taking the time to meet with Global Action on Aging and tell us more about these creative social initiatives. The New Timers! is a free program and open to everyone that wants to join. Those interested may sign up by calling 212-941-9400, ext. 439.

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.