Sunday, Jun. 27th on zoom join Dr. Bill Thomas and discuss Aging Magnificently. Get the book and sign -up here
Excerpt from Aging Magnificently
We are living inside a miracle. Compared to all the people who ever lived, we are the most likely to live a long and healthful life. If we have even a pinch of wisdom in us, we will treasure the people who share life’s ups and downs with us.
During my years as a practicing physician, the elders I cared for often reminded me that life is full of strange and unexpected happenings. Experience taught them, and they taught me, that it can be hard to tell when a twist of fate will be remembered as good news — or bad.
The people we know and love, and our relationships with them, are the wellsprings of the strength, purpose, and belonging that carry us through life. This holds true for people of every age and condition. We have no choice but to build the road of life as we travel. While we are sure to stumble into failure and success, love and loss, these things are made more bearable (or joyful) by the people we share them with. Life is less about circumstances and more about relationships.
I am honored to share this journey with you.
I have always been interested in the well-being of elders. I trained in medicine when I was young and practiced for many years as a geriatrician. In the early 1990’s I co-founded the Eden Alternative with my wife, Jude. In the intervening years, it has grown into a global nonprofit dedicated to improving the wellbeing of old people. In the early 2000’s I founded Green House Project, a radically new approach to long-term care that replaces nursing homes with small, home-like environments, where people can experience greater well-being. In 2007, I co-founded the ChangingAging.org blog with journalist and activist Kavan Peterson. In 2014, Kavan and I organized a 25-city “non-fiction” theatrical tour to launch my book Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper and More Connected Life and to promote the documentary film Alive Inside. That tour evolved over five years and included performances in more than 120 cities.
Spark is what comes next. It is a way of thinking about aging that honors the hopes and dreams of old people and ignites better health and greater well-being. This approach is founded on four simple truths.
- Ageism is a bigger problem than aging.
- In order of age magnificently we must understand aging as a process of growth and development.
- We are meant to explore “life beyond adulthood.” Elderhood is a life phase with rich potential.
- Greater strength, purpose and belonging builds resilience and resilience leads to greater strength, purpose and belonging.
When researchers survey old people they find them to be nearly unanimous in their desire to remain as independent as possible and to live in the place and manner of their choosing for as long as possible. My decades of work with elders and innovators in the field of aging have allowed me to develop a practical understanding of what matters most when it comes helping elders live how and where they choose. I have combined these insights into the Spark approach. Many companies provide services to old people in America but only one is on a mission to Spark lives. Working together we can use Spark to create:
- A deep understanding of ageism and how it interferes with our search for strength, purpose and belonging.
- An evidence-based approach to planning for greater health and well-being.
- A focus on the simple things that make a big difference — how to move, eat, sleep, and heal.
- An active approach to creating and sustaining community and belonging.
In the pages that follow you will find insights drawn from biology, history and gerontology along with stories about people. Some of these stories are drawn from my years of experience working with elders. Others are more like folk tales and parables that can help us begin to think differently about aging (including our own aging process) and develop powerful responses to ageism and greater health and well-being.
People of all ages share a common desire to live in the place and manner of their own choosing. The actual place and the particular manner of living do not really matter as long as it is what the individual desires. When we find ourselves at home in the world, comfortable with who we are and how we live, we create a powerful sense of well-being that can propel us through the twists and turns life brings our way.
What I learned across decades of caring for old people, supporting their families, advocating for change in the field, writing books and traveling the world speaking and teaching about aging can be summarized very simply:
Strength + Purpose + Belonging = Resilience
Research studies show that an old person’s physical strength is closely related to their ability to live life on their own terms. A measurable loss of strength can be an early indicator of a change in health status and one study found a direct association between a decrease in grip strength and the risk of death.
A person’s sense of purpose also contributes powerfully to health and well-being. The Japanese use the word ikigai when they refer to a person’s “reason for being.” The French use the term raison d’être to describe “the most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence.” Purpose matters.
We are social creatures and our very survival depends on our ability to create and maintain connections with others. The medical consequences of loneliness are both highly significant and especially well documented. Overcoming social isolation makes life better for people of all ages and abilities.
The journey matters and it begins here. Learning how to age magnificently can show us how to spark lives for others — and for ourselves.