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“Playing to Win,” a Global Symposium: Dr. Bill Thomas on Ageism, Aging Literacy, and Using Gamification to Change the Aging Experience

  • Apr 4, 2023
  • Cathy Gasiorowicz
  • 4-min Read

“Aging is a team sport, and we at Lifespark want to help people play to win,” said Dr. Bill Thomas, nationally renowned author, geriatrician, and Lifespark Chief Independence Officer. As part of Lifespark’s commitment to making life better for older people everywhere, he was asked to write a series of four books, called the Spark Pillars, to help transform the experience of aging.

For the past two years, the books—Aging Magnificently; The Good Life; MESH: Move, Eat, Sleep, Heal; and Better Together—have been used by Lifespark at every level to guide its work and shape its approach to supporting clients. “It was a good start, but not nearly enough,” Dr. Thomas said. “What about the millions of people we aren’t able to serve and support?”

That question sparked the creation of “Playing to Win: A Global Symposium on Aging Magnificently,” a 10-week course that combines lecture, discussion, and gamification to explore aging, ageism, and aging literacy. Sponsored by Lifespark in collaboration with the Eden Alternative, the worldwide educational experience goes live on June 7, 2023.

Why “Playing to Win”?

While name of the symposium might not immediately evoke a discourse on aging, Dr. Thomas says that the words playing and win are central to the message that Lifespark sees aging in a dynamically different way.

“So much of the language around aging is way too serious, bordering on tragic, with people writing about ways to help older adults ‘manage decline’ or ‘deal with age-related difficulties,’” he said. “At Lifespark, we think the ideal way to experience aging is with a full and happy heart, and playing is a big part of that.”

As for winning, Dr. Thomas says it’s about getting to live life on your terms. “The U.S. has medicalized aging in a way that equates wellness with how well a person’s medications are addressing their diagnoses,” he said. “But that actually has very little to do with living a life that is meaningful to that person.”

Not just for professionals

The symposium is designed for professionals as well as anyone with an interest in aging, including individuals in the later decades of life and those with older friends or family members.

“The content, global access, and affordability makes this an offering that can’t be found anywhere else,” Dr. Thomas said, adding that the $99 registration fee includes the Spark Pillars in eBook and audiobook formats.

For professionals, the symposium offers practical tools and relevant applications to their work, including:

  • A deep consideration of the role that ageism plays in the field of geriatrics, and practical techniques on how to combat ageism.
  • An introduction to aging literacy to help participants differentiate between normal aging and the effects of disease.
  • Real-time gamification experiences that show how it can be used to transform the experience of aging.
  • A certificate upon course completion that participants can use to apply for CEUs.

Each session includes a lecture by Dr. Thomas based on a reading from one of the four books, such as Decline-ism vs. Developmentalism, Anti-aging vs. Anti-frailty, and The Population Health Revolution, followed by an interactive discussion. Finally, there is a weekly quiz to promote mastery, engagement, and team-based gamification.

Why gamification?

In his role as Chief Independence Officer at Lifespark, Dr. Thomas has been the creative force behind the Spark Performance League, the world’s first inter-community athletic league for elders. The recently completed TRYathlon Tournament, for example, involved 427 residents in 32 teams representing Lifespark Senior Living communities across Minnesota and Wisconsin. Collectively, the players logged more than 3,600 miles.

“In general, we in the field of aging have not made effective use of gamification, largely because of ageist attitudes that suggest older people aren’t suited to competition, teamwork, or community building,” he said. “Those are damaging assumptions, and this course is a direct attack on those prejudices.”

Using the TRYathlon Tournament, National Forklift Racing League, and other competitions as examples, Dr. Thomas will walk participants through the process of creating authentic gamification experiences that build strength, purpose, and belonging—and provide an antidote to the epidemic of loneliness.

“The pursuit of wellness is a collective activity—you cannot achieve it on individual terms or find it in a pill bottle,” he said. “As a complete senior health company, we can help people get better together.”

Join us!

“Playing to Win: A Global Symposium on Aging Magnificently” meets online each Wednesday at 2:00 PM EDT / 1:00 PM CDT from June 7 to August 30, 2023. Register today to join a global community of individuals who want to change the aging experience.  And if you are a Minnesota nurse, use the code LifesparkGuest to receive 50% off your registration!

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