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“Second Wind” Tour Aims to Change Our Perceptions of Aging

March 27, 2014

Americans need to re-examine the way they perceive the aging process, says Dr. Bill Thomas, an internationally recognized aging expert. “In American culture, we talk about aging as if it is equivalent to decline,” he told PHI recently. “Aging is presented in our media as if it were a form of disability – an expensive kind of weakness.”

Rather, he argues, aging is a “complicated process with many assets and virtues — if you know where to look.”

Dr. Thomas will be taking this message on the road starting March 31, the day his Second Wind tour premieres in New York City. The show will proceed on a 25-date tour across the U.S., hitting all the regions of the country — the South, the Midwest, the West Coast — before wrapping up June 6 in Philadelphia.

Second Wind is also the title of Dr. Thomas’s newest book. Its subtitle (Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper and More Connected Life) summarizes Dr. Thomas’s contention that aging does not limit a person’s opportunities — it can actually expand them.

Aging is complicated and can be challenging, but it can also be joyous and liberating. One aspect of aging that is rarely acknowledged, Dr. Thomas said, is that it allows people to “outgrow adulthood,” shake off the traditional constraints of being an adult, and enter an entirely new phase of life, which he calls “elderhood” — a less acquisitive, less materialistic phase of life. “We want to normalize that and celebrate it,” he said.

The stage show will deliver that message to audiences in several different ways. Each show will begin with a group of five speakers — four speakers travel with the tour, and one is local and exclusive to each individual tour date. Each will speak for roughly 20 minutes; Dr. Thomas likens each monologue to a TED Talk about aging. They serve to establish the themes of the show, helping the audience to “poke and prod at the conventional wisdom about aging,” he said.

Each speaker will “connect their personal experiences with larger questions surrounding aging,” Dr. Thomas said. For example, Dr. Janet Taylor will compare her “first coming of age” to her “second coming of age,” and in doing so, address the universal challenge of “outgrowing adulthood.”

Each tour stop will also feature a presentation by The Green House Project, a model for culture change in nursing homes which Dr. Thomas co-created. (He is also the co-founder of the Eden Alternative.) The Green House Project uses the “power of creativity and imagination to create new kinds of jobs with new roles and responsibilities” for nursing home workers, Dr. Thomas said.

Following the speakers (and a brief intermission), audiences will be treated to a special 30-minute director’s cut of Alive Inside — a documentary about using familiar music to engage the emotions of people with dementia — followed by a performance by Samite Mulondo, a Ugandan-born musician who is also featured in the film.

Asked what he most hopes audiences get from the Second Wind tour, Dr. Thomas said he wants to upend Americans’ prejudices about aging and elders. “We’re going to challenge ageism in the same way people have challenged sexism and racism,” he said.

For more about the Second Wind tour, including information about how to purchase tickets, visit the Second Wind website.

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