September 24, 2008

The Byzantine origin of clinical geriatrics

Wien Med Wochenschr. 2008;158(17-18):471-80.

[Why should Byzantium be considered as a cradle of clinical geriatrics?]

Lapin A.


Generally, roots of today's medical ethics are thought to have sprouted from antiquity and from classical Hebraic consciousness, while the origin of hospital medicine and institutional nursing of the elderly was assumed in Middle Age and in modern times, respectively. But even between these two periods, notably in Byzantium (324-1453) there were many famous physicians working with surprising skills in many disciplines such as surgery and ophthalmology. The most important achievement of that time, however, was in public health care. Following the Christian ideal of philanthropy, numerous hospitals (nosokomeia), hospices (xenodocheia) and asylums for the elderly (gerokomeia) of a remarkable organisation and professionalism were founded in many cities of the Byzantine Empire. Concerning the elderly patients, interesting findings were obtained concerning ageing process (eschatogeria), geriatric symptoms, multimorbidity, marasm and typically occurring diseases. Interesting approaches were realized with regard to the nursing care, diet and recommended life style for the elderly. By the end of the Byzantium Empire in 1453 and due to the different cultural development in the West, which was sometimes marked by conflicts between church and science and by the regulations of medicine, the knowledge about the Byzantine health care was almost lost. It survived, however, only in hospitals of occidental monastic orders, which brought their experience from East-Mediterranean area. Their hospitals were than a base for modern health care and for geriatrics.


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