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Challenging conventional wisdom about growing old

Dr. Bill Thomas, physician, award-winning author and co-founder of The Eden Alternative.

As Baby Boomers continue to age, more and more are reaching the retirement age. This week on “Take Care,” we discuss aging and how attitudes toward aging can be changed with Dr. Bill Thomas.

Dr. Bill Thomas is co-founder of The Eden Alternative, an international non-profit organization focused on creating quality of life for elders and their care partners. He is a physician, an international authority on geriatric medicine and eldercare and an award-winning author.

“America views aging as a kind of decline”, says Dr. Bill Thomas.

This negative view of aging is often due to a false belief that youth is perfect and is also common in mass consumer societies. In more community- and family-oriented societies, a stronger respect for elders is prevalent.

Thomas would like to see a change in the way that people perceive aging. According to Thomas, members of the baby boomer generation are America’s secret weapon to changing views of the aging population. This generation is large and influential, challenging conventional wisdom around aging.

According to Thomas, aging is actually a huge success.

“Aging equals growth,” says Thomas. “For humans it actually takes a long time to discover who you’re meant to be,” Thomas says.

Aging, he says, is therefore a lifelong journey of discovery.

There are difficulties and health issues that accompany aging, but to paint a true picture of aging, these difficulties must be balanced with the new kinds of insights that also come with it.

Thomas says if a change of views in aging can happen, along with it will come a need for a change in housing and other facilities for the elderly. Thomas says many current nursing homes can be compared to prisons.

“There aren’t that many places in American society where people are removed from their home and community and placed in an institution, very often against their will, and kept there sometimes for the rest of their life,” says Thomas.

He says we should shift our perspective of elderly housing to institutions that manage the decline of older people, to places dedicated to human development where people grow. Nursing homes should be environments where people go to grow and live, more like schools than prisons, Thomas says.

Thomas considers aging a gift. As you get older, the story of your life becomes more complete, meaningful, and soulful.

“In the very end what happens, if we’re lucky, is we wind up trading that once-perfect body for a one-of-a kind, only once in the universe story of a human being who lived a life,” says Thomas.