By Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post
“I have a confession to make,” Bill Thomas announced several months ago at a conference on aging in Oregon. “I am an old man.”
“No, you’re not!” an audience member called out. It was meant, no doubt, as a compliment: Despite his gray-streaked beard and crow’s feet, the 56-year-old geriatrician-cum-thespian crackles with high-octane energy. And isn’t that what we all want to hear as we age? That we don’t look old? That we seem younger than we are?
It’s not what Thomas wants to hear. After more than 20 years of trying to make life better for old people, he believes the correct message is the opposite: That we are lucky if we get to grow old. That there is a “third” phase of life beyond adulthood that can be as rich as either of the phases that came before.
“Man, I’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said to himself that day in Oregon.
In the land of Botox and celebrity teenagers and the 18-to-34-year-old target consumer, the idea that old age can be as rewarding as youth is not an easy sell. In fact, Thomas believes that Americans have bought so willingly into the idea of aging as something to be feared that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to isolation, loneliness and lack of autonomy.