Dr. Bill Thomas is an author, entrepreneur, musician, teacher, farmer and physician whose wide-ranging work explores the terrain of human aging. Best known for his health care system innovations, he is the founder of a global non-profit (The Eden Alternative) which works to improve the care provided to older people. He is the creator of The Green House® which Provider Magazine has called the “pinnacle of culture change.” Dr. Thomas also developed the Senior ER model of care and is now working to transform the acute care services provided to elders.
His synthesis of imagination and action led the Wall Street Journal to highlight Dr. Thomas as one of the nation’s “top 10 innovators” changing the future of retirement in America and US News and World Report to name him as one of “America’s best leaders.” The magazine noted his “startling commonsense ideas and his ability to persuade others to take a risk,” and concluded that “this creative and wildly exuberant country doctor has become something of a culture changer–reimagining how Americans will approach aging in the 21st century.”
Dr. Thomas recently starred in the Sundance award-winning documentary Alive Inside. He has been traveling the country since 2014 starring in what he calls his ChangingAging Tour, a “nonfiction theater performance” that has played in over 80 cities. “People hear that a doctor is coming to town to talk about aging and they expect me to show up wearing a white coat with PowerPoint slides. I show up with a guitar, a bass player, a theater set, costumes, music, art, mythology, storytelling, biography, and neuroscience all mixed up. It’s kind of like a TED Talk on steroids.”
One study after another has proven that how we perceive aging, to a very large degree, determines how we age, Thomas says. With the accepted narrative of aging one of decline, disease, and disability, it’s difficult to look upon advancing years in a positive light. Dr. Thomas challenges the negative stereotypes in hopes of changing the narrative. “It’s the story that matters,” he says. “How people interpret their experience goes a long way to determining their wellbeing. So I decided to go out into the world and start changing the story of aging.”
Dr. Thomas says attracting the 70 million baby boomers to the positive aging movement is easy. “These are men and woman who grew up questioning the dominant narrative of the time: sexism, racism, the Vietnam War. They’re looking for a new framework with which to understand aging. They’re looking for a new story to tell. We believe in possibility, change, growth, optimism, spirit and soul. The other side has injections.“
Dr. Thomas’ books include Principia Senescentis, Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper and More Connected Life, Tribes of Eden, What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World. He blogs regularly at ChangingAging.org and lives in Ithaca, New York.
- Ask Dr. Bill
Many NPR listeners fondly remember Car Talk ,where callers asked questions about cars and life, and listeners thoroughly enjoyed spending to The Tappet Brothers (Click and Clack) offer sometimes helpful but always entertaining answers. Dr. Thomas has devised a format similar to Car Talk. He asks the audience to anonymously “write down the hardest question they can think of” related to health, aging, or anything. After doing this hundreds of times, he is rarely asked a question he has not been asked before, and the questions range from the practical to the philosophical to the borderline inappropriate. Bill’s answers often surprise, and are always wildly entertaining, but one theme is common: older people are grown ups and should be free to age in the manor they chose.
- MESH – Move, Eat, Sleep Heal
People frequently ask Dr. Thomas, a board-certified geriatrician, medical advice for living well second half of life. People have come to expect certain answers: do your exercizes, seek good nutrition, get eight hours of sleep and take your medicine as prescribed. Dr. Thomas takes a wildly different approach, turning these widely accepted concepts inside out, and instead getting to the root of what makes older people happy. Once we’ve understood MESH, Dr. Thomas will tackle the dreaded “senior moment.” Dr. Bill will take his audience on a journey to explore senior moments, and explain a neuroscientific concept called “gist” and why it’s actually a mental superpower that only comes with aging.
- The M.A.G.I.C. of Elderhood
An imaginative look at how all of us can have some MAGIC (Multi-Ability, multi-Generational, Intentional, Community) in our lives. From a sociological perspective, Dr. Bill Thomas promotes the “rise of elderhood” and recognizes the value of this important life stage for individuals and society. He asks the question “What do people really want?” in their care, in their living environment and in life. With a quarter century experience creating and replicating new approaches to health and well-being, Dr. Thomas latest innovation, Minka, is focused on helping people of all ages live where and how they wish. The deceptively simple design of Minka is based on research into human complexity and of input from some of our culture’s most vulnerable people.
- What are old people for (and why should I hire them)?
We are witnesses to a world-historic achievement. We have made what was once a rarity—entry into old age—into something quite ordinary. Hundreds of millions of people expect to grow old and will very likely do so. Even better we have fashioned an old age that routinely yields the happiest of years of one’s life. At the same time, we work ceaselessly to snatch defeat from the jaws of this great victory. Our times are defined, in part, by a widespread and perilous aging illiteracy. We are told that old age brings only a boring conformity. We are told that aging narrows our range of experiences and diminishes our value. In fact. the opposite is true. People commonly believe and repeat a range of myths, falsehoods and stereotypes about human aging and are unable to answer the most basic questions about the nature of independence and longevity. In this talk, Bill will work though concepts of his book Principia Senescentis and exampine the true nature of human aging, exposing the modern mythology that places independence at the heart of dignity.
- The Four Types of Ageism
A recent survey of people over 60 found that nearly 80 percent of respondents reported experiencing ageism. Typical examples included episodes in which others had assumed the presence of memory or physical impairments simply because of a person's age. Thirty-one percent reported being ignored or not taken seriously because of their age. The survey found that the most frequent type of ageism — reported by 58 percent of respondents — was being told a joke that pokes fun at older people. But negative assumptions about older people are only a quarter of the problem. Positive and negative assumptions about older and younger people are all damaging, and all reinforce the most ageist idea in our culture: that youth is the greatest virtue, and getting old is synonymous with decline. Does this matter? Yes, it does. Ageism compromises the health and well-being of older adults. Ageism strips our communities of multigenerational engagement and reciprocity. Ageism diminishes the ability of older people to experience the richness and meaning of life after adulthood — elderhood.
- Elderhood Rising: The Dawn of a New World Age