Thursday, September 28, 2017

Dr. Bill Thomas: Is Evansville the One?

Rating culture change ideas on 3x5 cards.

If you live in Evansville, Newburgh, Henderson, Owensboro, you are in for a treat!

On Friday, September 22, 2017, internationally renown geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas asked two groups of people from the Evansville region, "Are you the one?"

He was asking if we have the desire to pioneer new housing, a new community that promotes wellness for older adults by better integrating them with other generations and by creating specialized housing that adopts cutting-edge technology.

Our region has the resources, he discerned during a visit in August this year. But do we have the drive?

Who Is Dr. Thomas? 

Describing Dr. Bill's Thomas' work proves challenging.

He's a geriatrician by training. However, watching him interact with others, he presents himself more as an artist and an advocate than a scientist (but he does know his science).

Dr. Thomas, catalyst for change.
For years, he has worked to create a culture change for how older adults relate to society at large. His ideals include the integration of all generations, so the scope of his work exceeds the boundaries of geriatrics.

See Changing Aging for more information about him and his team of aging innovators.

Dr. Thomas also takes an interdisciplinary view because he values the world views of the social sciences and the humanities in addition to the perspectives of allied health professions and sciences.

He also communicates his ideals through a variety of modes, ranging from scholarly articles to performance art. Consequently, his methods also exceeds the boundaries of his training in medicine.

He's iridescent.

I had the opportunity of participating in two events where he was the catalyst for the action.

A Morning Discussion with Dr. Thomas and Members of the USI Campus

On the morning of Friday, September 22, 2017, I met with various  members of the University of Southern Indiana community for a discussion initiated by Dr. Thomas.

Dr. Katie Ehlman, gerontologist
Dr. Thomas asked this group of university administrators, faculty, staff, and students if we were "the one" to establish an innovative form of connecting older adults with younger generations.

As a reference point, there are several communities in Europe (NetherlandsFinland) and a few in the United States (Cleveland, New York, Los Angeles) that invite young adults to live in housing designed for older adults.

He asked how our campus might work with the broader community to create housing that has appropriate 1) architecture, 2) technology, and 3) community for intergenerational living.

11 am group discussion on culture change.
As a group of university stake holders on the question of aging, we discussed these questions:

How can the architecture be right sized--not to big, not too small? How can home spaces use technology to support aging in ways that are not unwieldy?  And how can older adults share home spaces and living spaces with members of many generations?

This experimental communities do not transform existing housing models radically enough, but here is a video that very briefly introduces a program called "A Home that Fits," which is located in Finland. This housing situation has mutual benefits: the younger people get free or reduced housing, and the older adults receive the social stimulation that younger adults provide.

Except that's not the full story.

The younger adults soon learn that they gain stimulation from the friendship, wisdom, experience, and enthusiasm of the older adults that they didn't initially perceive.

(See the 2014 documentary Cyber-Seniors for a similar intergenerational concept.)

These models add young people into hospital-like living situations of assisted living centers. Are their more innovative housing / community models waiting to emerge?  Of course.

An Afternoon Activity with Dr. Thomas and the Broader Evansville Community

Evansville community members exploring aging models.
I was fortunate enough to join the afternoon activity as well.

The members who met with Dr. Bill Thomas in the afternoon included some people who are members of USI, but more than half who attended were people from the broader community:

  • health care workers 
  • business owners
  • community volunteers
  • alumni 
  • long-standing citizens from Evansville

Dr. Ann White, Dean of USI's College of Nursing and Health Professions introduced Dr. Thomas to the group.

He then asked similar questions about creating new models of housing and community before starting an activity.

Idea card, scored via discussion.
People as individuals formulated a statement on how to invite culture change. After each person wrote that idea on a card, we formed small groups and rated these ideas on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest.  After a few minutes of shifting around the room, our energetic discussion concluded with a range of scores.

The group then listened to the top five ideas produced by this interactive adjudication process.

  • Incorporate Dr. Thomas' concept into the University master plan. USI would change a segment of its master plan to host this model. 
  • Over 55s living in proximity to students, open and welcoming to all sexual orientations, cultural backgrounds--with a purpose of helping each other with daily life and future planning.
  • Use the campus daycare to team up with adult day care.
  • Incorporate preschools, colleges housing, senior homes together. Where the college students have free housing in exchange for volunteer hours.
  • At 18, most people go to college: social, academic, self-growth. What about a college-like community for elders to improve social, intellectual and spiritual growth? 

Evansville citizens, Larry Miller and Golden Koonce. 
I admit that I didn't actually score cards.

Instead, I stood at the edges of the room, watching people talk with each other.

It was invigorating seeing people from many sectors of the Evansville community sharing ideas with each other about how to improve the aging experience.

Integrating older adults results in improving everyone's living experience.

Dr. Thomas is coming back on November 6, 2017.

If you feel a bit glum about missing the events described here, there's another opportunity to discuss how to change aging / change communities.

Dr. Bill Thomas will return to the USI campus on November 6, 2017.

He will spark more conversation at the following three events (one at 2:30 pm, one at 4:30 pm, and one at 7:00 pm).

See this this event page for more details--address, map, run times, and ticketing.


Books on Aging and Spiritual Growth
2016 MAIA Institute on Aging and Wellness
Teepa Snow, Dementia Educator, at MAIA 2017
2017 MAIA Institute on Aging and Wellness

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