Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Evansville Hosts the Aging Avengers

Photo of Aging Avengers L-R Nate, Jennifer, Kyrié, & Samite courtesy of
 University of Southern Indiana Photography & Multimedia
Evansville, Indiana enjoyed the opportunity of hosting Dr. Bill Thomas and other Aging Avengers on Monday, November 6, 2017.

The visit was organized by University of Southern Indiana's Center of Healthy Aging and Wellness, but adults of all ages from the broader tristate (IN, IL, KY) community attended. The venue was USI's beautiful, nearly 300 seat Performance Center.

This was a return trip for Dr. Bill Thomas, given that he was a keynote speaker at the 10th Annual Mid-America Institute on Aging and Wellness. Evansville and the tristate were thrilled to have him return with an intergenerational team of people who hold positive views about aging.

Dr. Ann White, dean of USI's
College of Nursing and Health Professions,
welcomes attendees.
The day consisted of three events:

* Disrupt Dementia in the afternoon
* Life's Most Dangerous Game in the evening
* Lobby Experience in between

All events encourage people to radically redefining aging. The benefits are not just for older adults.

By recognizing the life stage of elderhood, every generation benefits by working together to improve the greater society. 

Disrupt Dementia

Disrupt Dementia is a musical and storytelling event focused on rewriting the narrative about dementia from one of isolation and victimhood to one of connection and empowerment. 

Photo courtesy of University of Southern IndianaPhotography & Multimedia.
I was pleased to learn that the performers practice what they preach. 

The program emerged in collaboration with a group of people in Seattle living with dementia. 

Labels convey a lot of power, so it's notable that this group chose Momentia Seattle, to highlight the value of living fully in the moment. 

Nate, Jennifer & Samite performing
"My Mother Calls Me Baby."
Because the program eschews scientific language in favor of song and storytelling, the audience has a more full-body learning experience.  

The audience was delighted to hear (L to R) Nate Silas Richardson, Jennifer Carson, and Samite Mulando sing. 

Music conveys the humanity that people with dementia still possess if others will just listen. 

One of the most moving elements of the program occurred during a video clip of a Momentia Seattle member Tim Harmon.

In the clip below Tim explains that dementia gave him unexpected gifts while Kyrié looks on.

To paraphrase, Tim finds benefits in losing his inhibitions and opening himself up to being more loving.

Tim also serves as member of the Disrupt Dementia Advisory Board.

As a memento of the afternoon, I purchased Healing Dementia by Kyrié S. Carpenter,  (one of the Aging Avengers / performers).  

I'm striving to accept her book's invitation to see the limits of adult cognition in favor of a more emotional, extra-rational approach to living. 

Life's Most Dangerous Game

After dinner, a larger cast performed their non-fiction theater event "Life's Most Dangerous Game." It's difficult to summarize since the topics were far ranging and the presentation styles were varied.  

My description?  The evening performance used song, story telling, and personal anecdotes to complicate images of aging. Every living person ages and has a relationship to elderhood.  

Wizened Dr. Bill Thomas (right)
lives life without fear, silences his critics, and sings!
Too often, people maintain a narrow view of aging, one that emphasizes physical decay.  However, older adults are more rich and complex than most people are willing to recognize.  

And socially engaged elders are central to the formation of a healthy larger community. In other words, everyone benefits when older adults collaborate with people of all life stages. 

Here is one example. 

Yes, older adults might have a more limited ability to quickly store information into short-term memory, but they have an increased ability to synthesize information and to interpret situations meaningfully.

Young adults and older adults can then work together to synthesize their different skill sets by working on common goals.  

Again, the program practices what it preaches by having performers and technicians of various ages using different skills sets to create the evening's performance. 

With the moon as a backdrop,
Namarah as a crone elder.
Even though many of the performers have advanced academic degrees, the evening is not a data-crammed lecture. Instead, the vignettes are filled with myth, storytelling, music, and drama. 

Namarah, a multi-media artist and one of the Aging Avengers / performers, powerfully depicts a couple of goddesses in the retelling of two myths about aging. 

However, my favorite part of the evening performance was the dramatization of a scene from a novel, Tribes of Eden, written by Dr. Bill Thomas.

In a scene late in the novel, the protagonist, Emma, has aged to the point where she transitions from a midlife adult to an elder. Namarah depicts an elder initiating Emma into a new life stage. 

(This might be a good place to point out that I have secured vanity plates in two US states that read: Crone 2B, meaning "to be" or future crone.)

Lobby Experience

Photo by Mary Scheller of USI.
I didn't have the opportunity to visit every station in the lobby, but there were several activities:

Drum Circle. Photo by Mary Scheller.
* A drum circle
* A kickboxing instructor who works with people living with Parkinson's disease
* Information tables from various local services for older adults
* Video interviews by Mike Bolander from the Changing Aging team
* A merchandise table staffed by the Aging Avengers 
* And more! 

Did you miss the tour? 

You can watch a couple of minutes here! 


Is Evansville the One?
Books on Aging and Spiritual Growth
The Ultimate Performance Art: Love
2017 MAIA Review of Keynotes and Concurrent Sessions

Many healthcare professionals attending MAIA each August at USI earn CME credits (continuing medical education), but a good portion of those present are not healthcare professionals; they are community members who are pro-active about their physical, financial, social, and emotional health.


  1. This is a great post; yesterday as a volunteer I visited an older lady who lives in a retirement home, and it is home to many people with memory issues. They call it memory care. I have visited her for two years now.

    1. I'm glad that you socialize with a person living with dementia. Dr. Thomas and his team hope that there can be an array of housing models for people living with dementia. I used to volunteer at a nursing home with a memory care unit. The wing was very small and the residents were isolated from the general population for their safety, but Dr. Thomas suggests that greater integration is possible if people in society at large accept a broader range of language and behaviors from people living with dementia.

  2. This looks so important and I wish I had the opportunity to see this. We will all be there to some degree. Some from the outside won't notice and others will notice greatly. I have visited a person with dementia years ago and it was a pleasant visit, but it was a good day and he had dementia. My Mother-in-law lost her last years over 24 months. She lived with us and it was a challenge.

    1. Thank you for reading / commenting. I am sorry that your mother had a lot of trouble her last two years, but it's great to see that you had the chance to be with her, even if it was difficult for everyone at times. Hugs to you for holding on to cherished memories of your mother.

    2. Tabor: PS: I do see that you are writing about your MIL. I was thinking too much about my own mother while writing my comment. (She lives far away and has some serious health concerns.) I projected too much of my situation into yours while typing. Sorry!

  3. What wonderful way to present the material by using theater. I agree that aging makes us richer in wisdom and it's better to focus on that rather than decay. Great post.

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog, Rebecca. Yes, I think theater is a great way to present information. I should put down the book, log off the computer and get myself out of the house more often!

  4. I worked with a client who owned/operated a senior day care facility. I learned a lot about dementia from that experience. It was so rewarding to spend time interacting with clients living dementia. She loved telling stories about raising her kids, and she could remember every detail as if it were yesterday, but she often could not remember what she had for breakfast or that she had been served her favorite meal for lunch just a few minutes before. Still, she is the heart of the party and loves participating in all the activities at the center.

  5. My mother had dementia. It was a slow process, but looking back I remember things that signaled the changes. She was always sweet and rarely combative, though in the end she had to live in the Memory Unit of the Senior Center because she once tried to leave. Really? My mom? Yes. When she was near death, it was as if the dementia left her. Miracles do happen.