What Age Is Considered Elderly? Does It Matter?

Published on 14/12/2022 by admin

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Last modified 14/12/2022

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Am I old? Growing up, this is a question I heard my grandmother, then my mother asking time and time again. The reality is that as time marches on, each of us has to deal with the pitfalls of aging. Our bodies slow down and we need to change the way we live.


But at what age are we no longer just aging but elderly? And does it matter?


Practical Usage of the Term


Whether or not you put any stock in the term ‘elderly’ or ‘senior’, there is no doubt that it has practical consequences on all our lives. It can impact if you’re able to get the type of life insurance you’re thinking of. Once you pass sixty-five, become a so-called senior, life insurance becomes much more expensive and tough to get approved.


It also impacts retirement. Even if your company is happy for you to work well into your senior years, your retirement annuity becomes available, as does access to Medicare and Social Security benefits.


It is therefore impossible to avoid the impact of the construct of seniority. However, should it affect the way you think about yourself? Do we need to redefine the term?


The Fundamental Problem With the Term


There are many reasons why the term ‘elderly’ is problematic. However, one issue comes above all others. That is the fact that different individuals age at different rates. Two sixty-five year old people can be in very different states of health. Some people today are active well into their eighties, while others are slowing down long before they’re considered elderly.


The fact is that there’s no medical consensus on who is elderly. Even if there was, it would have to change regularly. Life expectancy has been on the rise, with many people in far better health at later ages. At the same time, we are yet to see how the pandemic will affect how millions of people age.


So, on the one hand, our society needs to set specific ages at which benefits are accessible. On the other hand, reductive definitions have led many people to have to retire early and slow down long before they’re ready. We now know that this can have a significant impact on a person’s health in their later years.


The Mental Problem With the Term


Of course, we also cannot ignore how the term ‘elderly’ affects people on a psychological basis. Many people, especially in Western societies, fear aging. It seems to signal an end to the ability to be contributing members of society, which is an important source of meaning. It is also indicative of a frailty, that many people considered seniors do not actually exhibit.


This idea is counteracted by the actual experience of elders over the millenia. In many Eastern societies, old age is considered one of the most meaningful periods. In contrast to our construct of productivity in doing, other societies consider being of far more meaning. By exemplifying the ability to live fully in their own selves, elders are of huge value to society.


Many people in Western societies come to this understanding as well. However, because of the negative connotations of old age, it is much more difficult to come to terms with it. Personal experience may tell someone that their life is meaningful, but our society’s insistence on retiring older people and our obsession with productivity can counter that.


Should We Retire the Term Elderly?


The idea of no longer classing people as elderly seems impractical. After all, we need laws that allow access to benefits for retired people. But the classification itself is unnecessary. Laws specify ages rather than concepts. Referring to people as elderly or senior citizens does provide practical value, especially for purposes of classification..


All of that being said, it is at least worthwhile for us to detach the negative associations with the term. No longer viewing old age as a time of frailty and low productivity can help many Americans come to terms with the passing of time.