Skip to main content

Interview with Geriatrician, Eden Alternative Founder, and Author Bill Thomas



Bill Thomas is a very busy man. He is the founder of the Eden Alternative that has been on the forefront of transforming nursing homes into elder-centered communities.  He developed the Green House Project, which focuses on replacing institutional nursing homes with smaller, 10-12 person homes.  He has given talks on the need to change the culture of aging (see the TEDx video below).  And now, he has released his latest book, the Tribes of Eden, a novel inspired by his "life’s work as a self-proclaimed nursing home abolitionist seeking to change the way society views aging."






I was given the opportunity to interview Bill Thomas about the experience of being a writer and how the Tribes of Eden book can impact the way we care for our aging population.  Here is the transcript:

Widera: So what is the connection between the Eden alternative and your new book Tribes of Eden?

Thomas: For the past twenty years the Eden Alternative has been working to make long-term care environments into better places to live and work. About eight years ago I began to see elements of "nursing home life" creeping into society as a whole. I started to wonder about a future where the "tribes of eden" might extend beyond remaking long-term care and begin to challenge the structure of a dystopian society. This book is an exploration of how that might play out-- in the very near future.

Widera: Why do you think it is important to use storytelling as a tool to change the culture of aging? Have you found it to be effective?

Thomas: Storytelling is the only thing that has the power to change the world we live in. It is through stories that we make sense of our lives and the changes that are happening around us. Some people have asked me-- "why did you spend all this time on a novel?" My answer is always, "I am a storyteller, I needed to tell this story."

Widera: If storytelling is important, why science fiction and not non-fiction?

Thomas: I guess "Tribes of Eden" might qualify as science fiction because it is set in the near future but technology plays a very limited role in the story. What it really offers is an examination of trust and the role trust plays in holding society together. I am working on a new non-fiction book right now and I am excited about it but "Tribes of Eden" offers something that readers can only find in novels. It creates a world that readers can become part of it paints a picture of the world as it might be.

Widera: We recently had a discussion on GeriPal on the terminology on aging, and in particular, should we use older adults, seniors, or elders? Some of our readers thought that the term elder might perpetuate aging stereotypes. However, in this book and in your work, you use the term elder and elderhood. Is this something we should all consider doing?

Thomas: First off, I think people have a right to choose what kinds of terms are used to refer to them. Having that privilege is essential to even a basic level of human dignity. Second, our language has a limited and quite dismissive aging-related vocabulary. That said, I use the term "elder" for one simple reason. I believe that there is life beyond adulthood. I believe that it is manifested in a developmental stage called "elderhood." From there it is a short leap to recognizing that a child is a person living in childhood and an adult is a person living in adulthood. Not surprisingly, I see an elder as a person living in elderhood.

In Tribes of Eden it is an alliance between the young and the old that rises up to change the world. That, not surprisingly, it is my hope that elders might have a similar impact in the real world.

Widera: Is there anything else that you think is important for the GeriPal audience to know about your book?

Thomas: Yes, readers, writers and stories are entering into a new relationship. It used to be that panels of experts would judge the worth and value of a book and publishing houses would grant or deny access to an audience. Now, the readers are a big part of the life of a book. Readers determine whether a book rises or falls. We are running a "Join the Ride" campaign over at www.edenunderground.com because we recognize that we are in this with the reader. I like that feeling, it is direct it is authentic and I have found over the years that my readers are passionate people who love to talk about life and what they are learning. I think Tribes of Eden will appeal to them and they will make it a success.


Thanks to Bill Thomas for the interview.  To learn more about the book check out the ChangingAging website.

by: Eric Widera

Comments

Linda said…
Though being very busy he shared his views and thoughts. I really appreciate the Interview Questions and response given by Thomas.

Popular posts from this blog

Lost in Translation: Google’s Translation of Palliative Care to ‘Do-Nothing Care’

by: Cynthia X. Pan, MD, FACP, AGSF (@Cxpan5X)

My colleagues often ask me: “Why are Chinese patients so resistant to hospice and palliative care?” “Why are they so unrealistic?” “Don’t they understand that death is part of life?” “Is it true that with Chinese patients you cannot discuss advance directives?”

As a Chinese speaking geriatrician and palliative care physician practicing in Flushing, NY, I have cared for countless Chinese patients with serious illnesses or at end of life.  Invariably, when Chinese patients or families see me, they ask me if I speak Chinese. When I reply “I do” in Mandarin, the relief and instant trust I see on their faces make my day meaningful and worthwhile.

At my hospital, the patient population is about 30% Asian, with the majority of these being Chinese. Most of these patients require language interpretation.  It becomes an interesting challenge and opportunity, as we often need to discuss advance directives, goals of care, and end of life care options…

Delirium: A podcast with Sharon Inouye

In this week's GeriPal podcast we discuss delirium, with a focus on prevention. We are joined by internationally acclaimed delirium researcher Sharon Inouye, MD, MPH. Dr Inouye is Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Aging Brain Center in the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife.

Dr. Inouye's research focuses on delirium and functional decline in hospitalized older patients, resulting in more than 200 peer-reviewed original articles to date. She has developed and validated a widely used tool to identify delirium called the Confusion Assessment Method (CAM), and she founded the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) to prevent delirium in hospitalized patients.

We are also joined by guest host Lindsey Haddock, MD, a geriatrics fellow at UCSF who asks a great question about how to implement a HELP program, or aspects of the program, in a hospital with limited resources.  


You can also find us on Youtube!


Listen to GeriPal Podcasts on:
iTunes…

Are Palliative Care Providers Better Prognosticators? A Podcast with Bob Gramling

Estimating prognosis is hard and clinicians get very little training on how to do it.  Maybe that is one of the reasons that clinicians are more likely to be optimistic and tend to overestimate patient survival by a factor of between 3 and 5.  The question is, aren't we better as palliative care clinicians than others in estimating prognosis?  This is part of our training and we do it daily.   We got to be better, right? 

Well, on todays podcast we have Bob Gramling from the Holly and Bob Miller Chair of Palliative Medicine at the University of Vermont to talk about his paper in Journal of Pain and Symptom Management (JPSM) titled “Palliative Care Clinician Overestimation of Survival in Advanced Cancer: Disparities and Association with End of Life Care”.

Big findings from this JPSM paper include that we, like all other clinicians, are an optimistic bunch and that it actually does impact outcomes.   In particular, the people whose survival was overestimated by a palliative care c…