OPTIMIZE Sneak Peek: Interview with Dr. Bill Thomas
Guest blog post written by: Cynthia Seymour
Looking for an antidote to aging? Dr. Bill Thomas, geriatrician, entrepreneur, author, speaker and founder of ChangingAging.org, has some positive prescriptions for innovators and citizens alike whether you’re 25 or 95. And if you’re afraid of aging, or just don’t want to be defined that way, this is one thought leader who will give you hope and practical steps. Dr. Thomas joins other headliners at the upcoming Aging2.0 OPTIMIZE Conference in San Francisco November 14-15, 2017.
It was evident in the first few seconds of our conversation that he has a profound desire to turn aging on its head, spinning cartwheels. “We Americans grew up in a time of segregating elders. Nothing in our anthropology or history ever operated that way,” said Dr Thomas. He points out that every other society on the planet has a multi-generational legacy in reciprocity, noting patterns of interdependence from grandchildren to their parents to grandparents. He believes the time is now for Aging2.0 and other innovators to “dis-assemble from theories of decline” to create a richer, stronger way to enter the latter decades of life.
Much of Dr. Thomas’ philosophy is grounded in the science of reserve capacity, how to build strength and maintain it for quality of life at whatever age, stage or vocation. When we spoke of resiliency and the impact on your neurological health and its positive correlation with longevity, he said that he loves the sound and shape of the word, but wants to take it one level deeper to a more practical concept, that is reserve capacity. “We sometimes think it’s the can do attitude. But if you don’t have cognitive and nutritional (amounting to) reserve capacity, it doesn’t matter how strong your resolve is. You need both attitude and strength,” said Dr. Thomas. So how do you build reserve capacity? It comes down to MESH: Move, Eat, Sleep, Heal.
When asked to parallel how doctors want to die with how geriatricians want to age Dr. Thomas let out a hearty laugh and responded with three main elements: First, he wants strength as part of aging. “The old declines narrative breaking down,” said Dr. Thomas. He refers to reserve capacity, that strength that helps us live life on our own terms, independently. Second, he wants a close connection to purpose, meaning he wants to continue to have a clear and ongoing answer to the essential question Why am I here? Third, he needs powerful connections to community and belonging. “What tends to happen older people stop creating new relationships. This happens beyond mid-life. The problem is those relationships drop out of the bottom of a funnel,” states Dr. Thomas. Reasons range from a best friend who moves to Fresno, older relatives who pass away, job changes that diminish your circle of friends, or your children marry and move on. “If you’re not making new relationships, the day can come when you’re left alone. It’s very toxic.”
So what can you expect to hear from Dr. Thomas at the Aging2.0 OPTIMIZE Conference? Positive ways to re-think aging. In terms of living in a digital age, this was the only negative chord he struck. He feels generally technology for our elders is “vastly under-performing,” adding “When I look at digital innovations, the majority of them reinforce negative stereotypes of old age. He’s looking forward to meeting with the technology innovators and geniuses to consider digital tools for strength and belonging, away from digital tools that disempower older people. “Aging2.0 is cultivating two strands of innovation, one strand includes all the point solutions to the problems of aging. Grandmother can’t do this, so let’s help her manage the deficit. The other includes digital prosthetics that can help make us stronger,” said Dr Thomas, and who wouldn’t want a dose of that.
*Register to attend the upcoming Aging2.0 OPTIMIZE Conference to hear more from Dr. Bill Thomas and many other thought leaders.