What are old people for?

“What are old people for?”

In 2004, a physician named Dr. Bill Thomas asked that question in a best selling book “What are old people for? How Elders will save the world”   Dr. Thomas and his merry band of age disrupters were recently in the Pacific Northwest promoting their Disrupt Aging event.  The stop in Eugene, Oregon was their 110th show.

I am convinced!  Elders will save the world!

It was a  first-of-its-kind event! This immersive and transformational non-fiction theater wove film, music and first-person stories with groundbreaking research. We were challenged to re-frame aging. Dr. Bill asks “What if?” What if everything we knew about aging was wrong?

We invited 88-year-old Mary, who lives at Shorewood Senior Living in Florence Oregon to come to the event that began with a lunch with Dr. Thomas sponsored by AARP. The lunch group was small, giving us quality time with Dr. Thomas asking questions and sharing our passion for being part of a movement to disrupt aging in America.  Mary had learned about Dr. Thomas a few years ago when her husband read about how forward thinking Dr. Thomas was as a world renowned Geriatrician. She was thrilled to meet him in person, as her husband had passed away just 8 months ago at the age of 92.  As Dr. Thomas put his arms around Mary she told him,  “My husband is here looking down on us right now.”  Mary and her husband had embraced a vibrant elderhood together.

We asked Mary to share her experience with us.  She was thrilled to spend this time with Dr. Thomas, and he was honored that she blessed him with her presence!

Mary and Dr T

Mary meets Dr. Thomas.

“When I  was asked if I would be interested in attending a program called Changing Aging by Dr. Bill Thomas in Eugene, Oregon on May 5th, I had heard about the doctor and his specialty in geriatrics. Dr. Thomas was on his “Changing Aging” tour across America.

My first thought was to turn down the offer to attend because it would require sitting in a car for almost an hour to reach Eugene, Oregon and being an elderly woman in my 88th year, the thought of my stiffening body getting out of a car after an hour was not particularly appealing for the start of a long day in town.

My curiosity overcame my thoughts of wondering if I could tolerate the long day ahead knowing that we wouldn’t get back to Florence until almost ten at night.

I am happy to say that the day was a wonderful experience reinforcing what thoughts I had about my aging process. Thinking about all the clichés one could think of, Dr. Thomas fulfilled all of them—“ hit the nail on the head” and others.

He did it with lovely entertainment—stories and wonderful music along with fabulous electronics, the latter, no doubt, standard equipment of this era to the younger generation. As I got into the car to return home, I realized that I wasn’t as tired as I expected to be, I hadn’t thought much about my frailties. I had done something different this day. I had started to do what Dr. Thomas’ program was all about. I was disrupting aging!”

Dr. Thomas is taking his tour to the East Coast in June.  Check out his schedule.

It is truly an amazing social experiment and we were honored to be a part of it!  See the short video below.


jean-garbodenAbout the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.

My Shrinking World

My world just shrank! Like trying to get into a newly laundered pair of cheap jeans, I don’t quite fit.

Unlike shrinking pants, it’s more subtle. The losses are incremental and to a degree, intentional. At least I was consciously aware of what was happening. It went under the title of “downsizing,” generally lauded.

Treasures, many symbolic of significant happenings that helped mold who I am. Pictures of people “loved long since and lost awhile.” Dreams and failures, recognitions and disappointments, the good and the bad. Tossed, but hard to forget. It is a lesser person that fits into the newly acquired smaller space.

And the smaller space continues to make me a smaller person. There is less opportunity to grow through new contacts. I am tempted to get my haircuts at the in-house barber shop. I get my mail delivered which is easier, but less stimulating than going to the Post Office. It is more convenient and cheaper to eat in the dining room than go out for dinner.

Attending cultural events probably involves a trip in the rain and in the dark. My old friend, the public library, takes some effort and books will be delivered if I plan ahead. I miss my daily visits to Safeway, which randomly kept me in touch with the community of Florence. Friends drift away unacknowledged.

Our move to Shorewood Senior Living dramatizes our shrinking world. Everything is smaller and everyone is closer. I am not used to eating breakfast with a bunch of old people.

I must accept the fact that there are some things I cannot do, some things that I don’t need to do and some things I shouldn’t do. But it’s all right! I don’t determine my menu. But that’s all right! I associate with persons not of my own choosing. But that is okay.

Harriet and I do try to keep active, but it takes effort and energy and those, like space, are dwindling qualities and quantities. A nap is not sensitive to such promptings.

It is not just space that is disappearing; it’s control. In any case, at ninety-three, part of the solution is adjusting to aging and realizing that it is all right.

Not all residents share my feeling. For some Shorewood has brought a new sense of security and freedom that is reassuring to them and hopeful to me.

A generation ago, The British Broadcasting Company aired a comedy Waiting for God”. Set in a retirement community, it portrayed two people who resisted being warehoused in that vacuum between living and dying. The program came to mind when we became part of Shorewood. We are a decreasing factor in the world’s equation. And that’s okay, if we are satisfied being human. That that is needful at any age.


About the author:  Dick Smith, Minister and Community Leader

20161216_130223Dick and Harriet Smith have been part of the Florence, Oregon community for the past thirty years and recently moved to Shorewood Senior Living in August of this year. Dick has been involved in countless projects, businesses, and groups.

His mother taught him that if you have leadership ability it will be discovered. There is no need to push yourself into it or brag about yourself. Dick believes there is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.

Mr. Smith attended Yale University where he met his wife. They were both attending the Divinity school there. He is a retired Presbyterian minister and has been married to his sweetheart for 67 years. They say, “Life is good basically – we both agree on that.”

In 1992 Dick was nominated for the First Citizen award for Florence in recognition for his work and contribution to the many groups and businesses.

When asked for words of wisdom he said “I think the most important thing a person can learn is to give – of themselves and their resources. It brings more satisfaction and joy to a person.”