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What is old?

You are as old as you feel. You don’t look 50, 85 or whatever age one claims to be. Do you really have adult children?  So often we hear these clichés handed out when groups of friends or acquaintances get together, especially if it is for a birthday or anniversary celebration. This was formed part of our conversation when I went to the 80th birthday of a friend last week. The birthday ‘girl’s’ elder sister, aged 86, was also there and a number of people said to her, ‘ you don’t look 86’. The 80 year old was told that she looked so young for 80 and another guest surprised some of us when she said that she was now over 70.

This got me thinking. What are we supposed to look like at a certain age? If twenty 80 year olds were put together in a room would they all look about the same? I don’t think so. We can all, I am sure, think of people who are the same age chronologically but look quite different physically. I remember in my youth, about the age of 14, an aunt took me to visit a lady of 92. I can still see her now. The moment she opened the door I was in awe. She seemed very tall, maybe because I was still a bit short, but she had this beautiful long pony tail of brown hair which hung down over the front of her shoulder and down to her waist. Hard to say she looked 92! She was a beautiful woman who was still as fit as ever apparently; did all her own housework and gardening.

Then again, age like most other things in life the perception of age is relative. The Pew Research Centre carried out a study “Growing Old in America: Perceptions vs. Reality”.  Their results showed that most ‘Baby Boomers’ (born in the 1946 & 1964) describe being old as 72. In all, 2969 people, ranging in age from 29 – 65+ were interviewed for the study and the results were, for 18 to 29 year olds, old age begins at 60; for 30 to 49 year olds, at 69; for 50 to 64 at 72 and for those 65 and older, at 74.” This proves what we all know, the older you get the older old age is perceived to be. We probably all remember thinking that our parents were so old when we were children but looking back as adults we are amazed to realise that we thought that 30 was old.

A short while ago, I read an article on a couple in their mid-60s and the journalist described them as elderly. Ouch, I am that age and do not consider myself as elderly! In our congregation we now have two centenarians both of whom are still pretty fit. One goes horse riding every week! The other, while in hospital last year after a fall, was most indignant that the night staff wanted to put sides up on her bed due to her age.  Then again there are many aged 60-70 or a little older who are frail and need constant assistance.

Then again, we may say that old is when our health is failing or when we have certain afflictions or characteristics. This question was also in the study and the answers include:  Has gray hair = 13%; Has grandchildren = 15 %; Retires from work = 23%; Turns 65 = 32%; Is no longer sexually active = 33%; Has bladder control problems = 42%; Has trouble walking up stairs = 45%; Health is failing = 47%; Frequently forgets familiar names = 51%; Turns 75 = 62%; Can’t drive a car = 66%; Can’t live independently = 76%; Turns 85 = 79%.  Once again opinions on being old are varied and relative to our own ages and circumstances.

What we should look like at a particular age or how well we are, does not truly reflect our stage in the act of getting older. What is important is our attitude to life and our willingness to do all we can to make other peoples’ lives fulfilled and of great worth.  Those of us who have passed our 60th birthday generally prefer the term Senior Citizen to elderly or aged. We are Senior because, like in school, we have been through certain stages in life and have reached a stage where we deserve a bit more respect for the wisdom of our years and, of course, those all important Senior Citizen Discounts.

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