You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.
As the world constantly changes, so does the definition of old age. But what classifies a person as old or elderly? If you scroll through the web pages, you will see countless opinions and incomplete definitions. Why? Because we do not have a universally accepted norm that defines when a person is considered a senior.
At the end of the day, we are still left wondering: What age is considered elderly? Keep reading to find out what the experts think about this age-old question.
What Age Is Considered Elderly by Experts?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most developed countries define old age at 60 years and above.
Similarly, Western countries define the beginning of old age when a person reaches the age of 60 or 65. The majority of individuals retire at this age or begin receiving a pension.
On the other hand, a study published by the National Institute on Aging links aging with changes in biological, environmental, physiological, psychological, behavioral, and social processes. In addition, gerontology, the scientific study of aging, provides a few acceptable ways to explain the term “old age.”
You are considered elderly when a certain amount of years has passed since your birth. However, depending on the situation, the numbers can be quite subjective. In the U.S., most citizens are eligible to receive a pension at the age of 65, while senior citizen discounts are available once you reach 50.
Physical Appearance and Health Status
One of the first signs you notice as you age is that your appearance changes. Gray hair, wrinkles, and dark spots become symbols of your time spent on Earth. Similarly, you may begin to experience physical or cognitive deficits typically associated with old age.
Unfortunately, sometimes these assumptions can lead to ageism. You don’t want to guess a person’s age based on their health or looks as it can be very misleading, and even offensive.
When you define old age based on a person’s social role, you take into account factors such as: when they retired, when they started collecting social support payments, or when they became grandparents.
But, as we’ve mentioned, the retirement age is highly individual, and people can become grandparents at any age, so this method of determining whether someone is elderly may be the least effective.
No matter the approach, everyone still has different notions about what age is considered elderly.
What Words do You Associate With Aging?
Language and words are powerful tools that reflect and shape our outlook on life. Depending on the context and implications, there are many words we can use to describe people at later stages in life. Some are acceptable, while others are not. Here are some of the most common terms you may encounter.
According to Collins dictionary, someone who is old has lived for many years and is no longer young.
But consider this — do your parents like it when you call them “old?” Many people resent this term, as it depicts weakness and incompetence. On the other hand, “older” is a more neutral word and implies progress. An older adult has merely lived longer than someone else.
“Elderly” is a term for people who have reached advanced stages of life. The term, unfortunately, carries a negative implication as it most commonly refers to fragile individuals with declining health. However, in many cultures, the word “elder” represents a wise and respectable person.
The word “senior” is arguably the most appropriate term to use when addressing an older adult. In fact, a senior employee in a firm is a person with the most experience and wisdom. Furthermore, the term “senior citizen” typically refers to retired people over the age of 60 or 65.
Geriatric care is a branch of medicine that focuses on the special care of older people. The term, by its definition, does not imply a certain age. However, describing someone as geriatric may suggest they are senile.
Ageism is a phrase that refers to stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination against older adults.
Aging Process and Its Five Stages
Aging is a natural process we all must undergo. For most, aging is linear as we pass from one stage into the next. However, in some cases, people do not go through all the stages.
The normal aging process consists of five stages:
At the first stage of adult life, people don’t need help completing their everyday tasks. Although their health may be declining, it does not affect their day-to-day living.
Elderly people in this stage are generally between 55 and 70 years of age.
At the second stage, aging people begin to notice a decline in their physical and mental abilities. As daily activities become more demanding, they may require a caregiver or assistance from a family member.
People in this stage are generally 70 to 80 years of age.
During the third stage, people rely on others to help them with daily activities. They cannot function independently often due to a chronic illness, such as diabetes or dementia. Most older adults at this stage develop mobility problems and seeing or hearing impairments.
Most seniors reach this stage at the age of 70 and beyond.
4. Crisis Management
By the fourth stage, older adults need assistance that family members cannot provide. They battle with multiple illnesses which require treatments. In such cases, assisted living facilities and hospice care are the best options.
Most aging adults reach this stage in their 70s, though some may enter it sooner, while others may not transition to this stage until much later.
5. End of Life
In the last stage of the aging process, people need 24-hour care due to their deteriorated quality of life. They require medical aid and comfort from their families as they near the end of their lives.
Are Women Allowed to Age?
Aging is a taboo topic for many women around the world. Unlike men, women feel the constant pressure to look young. Nowadays, numerous treatments and operations exist, specifically designed to help reverse the marks of time.
In the past, the female population faced harsh criticism as they approached middle age. For example, while older actors maintained their roles on TV and in movies, senior actresses were pushed aside.
On average, females live 5% longer than males, which means they have an impressive 4 years survival advantage over men throughout history. But what age is considered elderly for a woman?
In some cultures, when a woman enters menopause, she can be seen as “old” because she is no longer able to bear children. But as that can happen in one’s 40s and 50s, that age is hardly considered elderly by other social standards.
Ultimately, even with science, history, and social norms influencing public opinions of what is female aging, every woman should know that she has the right to define her fate along with her perception of age.
Age Is Just a Number
If you were to ask a child if 60 is “old,” they would almost certainly answer yes. Their understanding of time and growing older is still developing. While on the contrary, if you were to ask a 70-year-old the same question, they would probably say 60 is young!
You are as old as you want to feel. Nobody can tell you otherwise.
With the average life expectancy rising every year, it seems a bit premature to bid farewell to youth in your mid-30s and embrace old age before you get the chance to blow out the candles on your 60th birthday.
If Ida Keeling, an American centenarian track and field athlete, could run a race at the ripe age of 104 or Gwyn Haslock can still surf at 74, who gets to decide if you are too old to do something?
Those who dare to become the best versions of themselves will find a higher purpose in life. And, when life has a purpose, time has no limits. When time has no limits, age really is just a number!