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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Aging Denialist, Realist or Enthusiast?

One of the takeaways from the Positive Aging Conference last week was something that Bill Thomas said in his keynote speech, a call for each of us to embrace our own aging process.

For those of you who do not know Dr. Bill, he is a geriatric physician and a self-proclaimed nursing-home abolitionist who has, for many years, worked to create a new model for care facilities that empower residents rather than isolate or diminish them.

In his inspiring talk Dr. Bill touched on the three different types of personal relationship with our own aging process: denialist, realist, and enthusiast.

According to Dr. Bill, denialists say "Not me, Brother!" and refuse to even think about aging and certainly do not talk about it.

Realists acknowledge that they are aging but believe that there is nothing "good" about it and see it as something to be overcome. These are the people who take so-called age "defeating" drugs, vitamins and other associated products. They are the ones who must go to the gym to look younger. They are the "age fighters" and often feel defeated when their bodies or minds show their age.

Enthusiasts realize that they are aging and accept aging as growth and that it is sometimes painful. This group is also excited to realize that as a culture we don't know how this new aging paradigm will turn out. They relish the fact that they are "aging explorers" (pun intended!)

Although you can make a case that as individuals we might wander between these groups, Dr. Bill suggested that until we have more Enthusiasts than Denialists a new aging paradigm will not occur and we will have lost our opportunity for change.

The fact that he was talking to a room of mostly "enthusiasts" was not lost on him or the audience. In fact he called us out to go back to our communities, jobs, families and begin to foster a more enthusiastic attitude for aging. One that celebrates the opportunities along with the losses. To embrace the process as well search for new purpose and meaning.

He also reminded us that the prominent attitude in our culture is still "Denial and Realist" and to remember that for these people aging might be terrifying and scary. They will not change easily nor will their allies, the drug companies and others who sell eternal youth.

Our role is to accept our own mortality no not just accept but "love" it. Accept the mystery and the unknown as the great explorers did and arrive on new shores where aging is seen as natural and actually empowering. Until we can do this for ourselves we can't expect change in others.
Dr. Bill Thomas web site:


tinyE said...

David, thank you so much for sharing the great news from the conference. I look forward to reading more! Erica

Bonnie B Matheson said...

I love all that was said except the idea that it is somehow wrong to think in terms of taking vitamins and going to the gym. As a full fledged ENTHUSIAST I beg to differ. In today's world of nutrition-free food and lack of exercise in every day life, vitamins and exercise (somewhere, whether at the gym or elsewhere) are necessary to a great quality of life. My book Ahead of the Curve, an intimate conversation with women in the second half of life, addresses this and many other aspects of aging happily.

David Rozell said...

Bonnie, I share your ideas about maintaining a great quality of life. However, I also see people who try to avoid aging by searching to look and act like "30somethings".

Isn't it a matter of intent and focus and our mental attitude about aging that makes a person a "denialist" or "enthusiast"? Taking vitamins and exercising to improve our quality of life sounds like a great idea to me. Being fixated on looking young....hmmmm....where is the honoring of the life stages?