'Age of Disruption' tour discusses aging in positive light


Photo Gallery | 2016 Age of Disruption Tour

PITTSFIELD — Aging — the mere mention of it carries a context that's historically gray and grim.

But when Dr. Bill Thomas and his "Age of Disruption" tour made its 67th stop at the Colonial Theatre on Tuesday, talk of aging took place among hundreds of people with youthful vigor against a backdrop of vibrant music, rainbows of stage lights, and enthusiastic conversations.

"We came here to listen, because listening is a form of activism," Thomas told a group of local and national stakeholders during a pre-event luncheon held at Home Instead Senior Care in Pittsfield.

Thomas is a self-described "geriatrician re-imagined into a disrupter," who aims to change the American narrative and perception of people who are aging and affected by dementia. He does so by visiting cities and towns and acting as facilitator by convening and connecting with local experts and caregivers as well as imparting his field expertise through a carefully crafted sensory exchange with audiences.

City residents Bob and Janet Lamarre, who identified themselves as octogenarians, came to the tour with one of their daughters, Michelle Bazinet.

"We're just curious to learn what it's all about, especially being of a certain age" Bob Lamarre said. "We're breaking ground with this because we've never been this old before."

In that vein, campaigns and policy groups are forming all across the United States to help ensure getting older is as positive and hopeful as the experience of growing up.

Here, the Age of Disruption tour stop is an outcome of the Age Friendly Berkshires initiative, a demographic-driven effort to better prepare the county to care for and improve the quality of life of residents and visitors alike as they get older. According to survey data from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, 60 percent of the Berkshire population will be over the age of 50 by 2030. Half of local residents already fall into this age group.

Asked by Thomas why they chose to be involved with the initiative, respondents' mutual answers included the need to care for others and ensuring the county has resources to meet the needs of older residents.

"I'm passionate about securing our future," said Bobbie Orsi, director of community relations for Home Instead and co-chairwoman of the Age Friendly Berkshires initiative.

Karen Benzie, vice president of Berkshire Health Systems' Integrated Care & Home Health program, said that she's "most passionate about changing perspectives," particularly in the acute care world.

State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said she hopes to change existing public policies "that hurt seniors," when they lose a loved one or try to access health insurance benefits.

"There's not enough conversation like this happening in communities in this country and it's my job to elevate that," said Michael E. Festa, director of the Massachusetts AARP Office.

"This is about moving away from a disaster narrative about aging and the silver tsunami changing community demographics," said Thomas.

He encouraged Berkshire stakeholders to consider — beyond the capital costs of accommodating an older population — how the county can better leverage the social capital of the community.

"We live in a society where financial capital is organized down to the penny, but social capital is scattered," Thomas said. "Imagine a world where social capital is exquisitely organized and thoughtfully employed. It can go a long way."

Tour associate Kyrié Carpenter, a psychotherapist and a millennial, also urged the group to better build relationships with younger and older residents alike, to create a continuum of engagement and interdependence.

"The answer is in working together," she said. "I hope the problems we have now won't exist when I'm 60."

After the luncheon, Tuesday's three-part Age of Disruption program, which uses a "nonfiction theater" approach, officially began with "Disrupting Dementia," and carried on into the evening. A public workshop for people with dementia and their care partners, it included a partial screening of the Sundance award-winning "Alive Inside" documentary film series by Director Michael Rossato-Bennett, along with interactive musical performance and engagement experiences, and a frank discussion of how people with dementia can both suffer but also grow, given the right care and compassion.

The second part, "The Lobby Experience," offered the opportunity for nearly 300 ticket holders to mingle with event sponsors and gather resources. There were tables of cookies and raffles, games and giveaways, and fliers ranging from memory-building workshops to an international cuisine supper club for seniors.

"This is great," said Karen Gold, co-chairwoman of the Berkshire Alzheimer's Partnership. "We have the best groups to work with on this issue. We're all here for the same reason."

Students of Aimee Gelinas led a drum circle prior to the headlining event, "Aging: Life's Most Dangerous Game," a thought-provoking blend of music by Nate Silas Richardson and storytelling by Dr. Thomas, reminding people that cultures throughout history and elsewhere in the world have thrived by respecting and caring for and giving their elders a voice in society versus shutting them away or speaking for them.

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.


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