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How old is OLD?

[By Lynne Peer]

How old is old to you? How will you know when you are old? Or, will you ever consider yourself old? Or, might you be like a relative of mine who at 90 would say that certain tools, like a medical alert button, are “only for old people, not me?”



The World Health Organization defines successful aging as “the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age.” We all typically want to do three things: 1) minimize the risk of disease and disability, 2) be continually engaged in life and 3) maintain our physical and cognitive function.


So, pretend you are looking at yourself in a mirror. Think of how you might define old age for yourself. Which of these concepts of aging will you use to decide when you are old? Will it be just your chronological age or will it be one of the others? Aging is actually a collective process – a combination of many factors.


Your Biological age: This is the relative age of an individual. In other words, what are the physical changes that might slow us down as we age? What is the condition of our organs and body systems? How do these affect our physical abilities? For example, do you have cataracts, disabilities or chronic diseases? Are your arteries clogged up, or do you have problems with your lungs that might make it more difficult to breathe?


Your Psychological age: How adaptive are you? What skills have you learned enabling you to function in your everyday lives? What might determine your level of mental acuity? And, how do you assess your emotional well-being? Our abilities to cope with negative emotions improve as we age even though we may have more difficulty with reaction and processing time. Some of us call this having a “senior moment,” but like so many words related with ageism, it’s better to eliminate this term. Often these senior moments or brain freezes may be the result of stress or anxiety medications; and don’t forget, there are junior moments as well.

Your Social age: How does a person behave regardless of age according to cultural and societal norms? How do your roles and relationships change, both within your network of relatives and friends and also in organizations in which you participate. For example, do you still like to dance or go out with friends? Do people comment, “You don’t act your age” or do you say “I still feel like I’m 30 or 40?” Although social aging can differ from one individual to another, it is also profoundly influenced by the perception of aging that is part of a society’s culture



Your Legal/Chronological age: This is defined by your age in chronological years. Unfortunately, this is one of the two our society most often bases its judgment. And, it can lead to ageism, a “socially constructed prejudice that pits us against one other to maintain the status quo,” according to Ashton Applewhite, an expert on ageism.

Your Functional age: How does one person compare to others at a similar age from a physiological perspective? In other words, what are you able to do compared to others? Can you drive on the interstate, can you cook, can you manage your checkbook, or can you use a computer and a remote control?


No matter which concepts you might use to define when you are old, the fact remains that aging is a part of life. We are all aging and a growing body of evidence shows that “attitudes toward aging can affect how our minds and bodies function at the cellular level,” according to a really interesting Ted Talks segment on “Let’s End Ageism” by Ashton Applewhite. Here’s a link to her talk for your viewing pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfjzkO6_DEI.


And one last thought from comedian George Burns (Might you remember him?), “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”


Aging Collective will be focusing on various topics about aging in our future blogs. Please sign up on our website for updates or visit our Linked In profile. #agingcollective #aginginplace #fallprevention #endageism




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