The book reviewed here is the one by Dr. William Thomas, a renowned gerontologist, who took a holistic approach to aging and illustrated his progressive ideas through a fictional story. The main part of the book In the Arms of Elders takes place in a special, imaginary place where elders enjoy natural respect stemming from their generativity, dignity, involvement and value. This book report will discuss the following issues related to age and ageism: the positive adjustment to the later age and acceptance of oneself as an older adult as a means of productivity and interconnectedness with the community; meaningful relationships between the elderly and the young and teaching by example to shape the society into one that values elders and their contributions; rethinking one’s opinions and adopting a mind-body-and-soul perspective when viewing the older adults; challenges to the negative stereotypes of aging present in our society; and the ideology of the Eden Alternative based on the aforementioned principles and values.
The older inhabitants of Kallimos are very well adjusted and involved in all spheres of life in the village. They play a central role in the community and the everyday life revolves around them. Other people of Kallimos greatly appreciate the contributions of the elderly and readily adjust the village to answer all of their needs. The older adults in this isle are instrumental in maintaining positive relationships between the village and the environment and also between the inhabitants themselves. They are the source of wisdom and give advice in both good and bad times, and their words are always heard and appreciated. Therefore, the three plagues of later life, loneliness, helplessness and boredom have no place in this community and in the life of the elders.
The older adults in Kallimos serve as positive role models for the younger members of the community providing them with comfort, understanding and guidance. Hannah is an example of an exceptionally nurturing and wise mentor for Bill and Jude. She not only heals their injuries after finding them unconscious on the shore, but she also teaches them how to become better people and valuable members of the community. Her interaction with them is at times difficult because they have a lot to learn about respect and authority of the elders, but their relationship evolves into a very deep understanding, caring and meaningful mentorship. She teaches them how to take what others offer while sharing what they have, how to relate to others and be as helpful as others are to them and how to participate in everyday life and thus feel useful and appreciated. Together with Haleigh she assigns their duties, teaches them how to enjoy them and truly care about the garden and the goats. When Jude falls sick from a spider bite, Haleigh and Hannah cure her and demonstrate the power of traditional medicine and love over complicated treatment and technological advances.
All of the previously mentioned characteristics of the elderly people seriously challenge the stereotypical beliefs about them that are commonly held in our society and reinforced by the media. In the book, the older adults are presented as very well adjusted, wise, creative and loving individuals while our society views them generally as depressed, lonely, close-minded and negativistic. Furthermore, the people in Kallimos accepted their elderly, were always willing to help them and incorporated them in their everyday life while in our society, we often isolate them, disregard them as useless and unproductive and many times do not take them seriously. This book is instrumental in allowing one to take a more objective outlook on the elderly and their contributions to the society. Once the capabilities, experiences and potential of the older adults are taken into the consideration, one can appreciate their presence in his or her own life and realize their value to the life of the community.
This kind of viewpoint is undoubtedly a part of Dr. Thomas’ belief system and resulted in the creation of The Eden Alternative. Dr. Thomas, realizing the detrimental effects of loneliness, helplessness and boredom on every person of age, revolutionized the field of gerontology by introducing an unconventional approach to both short and long term care. It is based on the idea that human beings are inherently social, autonomous and proud, and these characteristics should be respected and cherished throughout their whole life, not just the so-called productive years. Furthermore, the Eden Alternative relies on the idea of interconnectedness between people and the nature and its healing powers capable of relieving both physical and emotional pain.
In spite of the fact that the inhabitants of Kallimos were idealized people living in a fictional world, they were able to teach us many lessons about the priorities we have in life and the pathways we choose for us and for the society as a whole. Hannah and her friends illustrated how harmoniously one can live with the environment, with others and with him or herself as well. They also point to the potential that the elderly have with respect to educating children, providing wisdom and guiding the society. With the help of the people of Kallimos Dr. Thomas demonstrated that the well-being of the elderly is a matter of choice of the whole society and we all are responsible for ensuring a life worth living for all its members.
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In The Arms of Elders
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