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Reading Group Guide

What Are Old People For?
William H. Thomas, M.D.

1. What evidence of the cult of adulthood do you see in the world around you? Discuss examples you may have seen last month, last week, or earlier today.

2. Why and how does Dr. Thomas describe senescence as a ripening rather than a decline?

3. How does the concept of declinism enter into the author’s arguments throughout the book?

4. Discuss the BEING-DOING continuum. How does this concept relate to childhood, adulthood, and elderhood? How would you describe your own life in terms of this continuum?

5. What is Dr. Thomas arguing for, on page 196, when he says, “…it is the experience of life in a complex, interdependent, multigenerational society that, more than anything else, teaches us how to be human”?

6. On page 222, Dr. Thomas names the two great injustices he believes must change if we are ever to develop a new longevity (briefly, one, our outmoded ideas about independence, and two, the old-age archipelago). How legitimate do you consider these as targets for change? What does Bill Thomas propose as one of the means to effect the change?

7. Describe the concepts of warm, smart, and green. Discuss how these inform the development of Green Houses. Examine ways you think people could also use these concepts in their own homes.

8. What role does the shahbaz play in the Green House? How are the concepts that support convivium—food, shelter, affection—involved?

9. As humankind has evolved, its societies’ definitions of old age and aging have changed, too. Discuss the chart on page 285. Have you experienced different elements of all these categories in your own life, or seen them in others’ experiences with aging? What, especially, do you think about the last column, developmental aging?

10. Discuss the tasks that Dr. Thomas says can be part of developmental aging in late life. How difficult do you feel it is to foster this kind of personal development?

11. Explain how the following are related.
  • the grandmother effect
  • the cycle of cultural evolution
  • “Our longevity…is the invention that made all inventions possible.”

12. What does Eldertopia mean? How do we move toward it?

13. Do you think Dr. Thomas is an idealist or a pragmatist? Discuss differing opinions backed up with examples from the book.

14. How can the Tupelo, Mississippi, experience with Green Houses (detailed in the Appendix) be helpful to others trying to develop Green Houses elsewhere?

15. In your own life, do you want to experience being an older person aging in your own home, or would you be interested in joining a Green House constellation? In either case, how might you go forward to make sure you get what you want?

16. How do you imagine you’ll think or act differently now that you’ve read and discussed What Are Old People For?

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