When is Someone Old? – Part 2: Medical
Wednesday, 14 March 2007
[EDITORIAL NOTE: I've posted a new story at Blogher.org - Elder Fashion - An Oxymoron.]
In Part 1 of this series we discussed the language of aging which often, in the U.S., is used to marginalize elders. In a small effort to counteract this, the word “old” is used on this blog as a neutral descriptor. It just means a person has lived many years, nothing more.
Today, let’s look at the medical definitions of old.
One of the failings of our culture is to stereotype old people as being all the same. Although the exact divisions fluctuate, the research and medical communities know better, dividing elders into three categories which fall into these general age groups:
- The Young-old: 55 to 74
- The Mid-old: 75 to 84
- The Old-old: 85 and up
Some skip the “mid-old”, including them with the “old-old”, and some place centenarians in a fourth category all their own.
It is important to remember that people are as different at these stages as children are from adolescents, as different as a 35-year-old is from a 60-year-old. Also, individual elders age at dramatically different rates so that sometimes an 80-year-old’s decline can be no more than that of a 60-something. Other times, a 60-year-old can have aged as much as an average 80-year-old.
So while aging is highly individualized, determined by a combination of genetics, nutrition, activity, health and a variety of other, unknown, factors, the changes themselves that occur with getting older are understood. They begin to become evident even before we reach the young-old category and continue throughout late life.
Bones lose calcium. Kidneys become less efficient. Heart muscle becomes stiffer. Gallstones may develop. Skin becomes thinner, drier and less elastic. Focusing the eyes becomes more difficult. For men, the prostate gland enlarges. Hearing can deteriorate and here is an interesting note: men tend to lose the ability to hear high tones; women to lose the ability to hear low tones.
These are normal changes that occur in the body beginning in our 50s. No matter how many face lifts a person has, or Botox injections, or how many miles one runs or weights one lifts, or how careful about nutrition, the body gradually loses some of its capabilities.
Nothing known to medical science will reverse these changes although medical intervention can control the effects of many, which is how lifespan has been increased. And, contrary to much popular belief, mental and physical activity, good nutrition, appropriate medical treatment when necessary, strong social connections and acceptance of one’s age can make the later stages of life as abundant in their way as our younger years have been.
So the medical/physical answer to when is someone old – on average, between 50 and 55.
Scientifically speaking, thank you--now I know.
Posted by: Mizmell | Wednesday, 14 March 2007 at 05:13 AM
I'm reminded of my mixed feelings in 2002... the LA Marathon at 230 lbs, another marathon 3 months later on my 55th birthday at 235+ lbs, and another marathon 4 months after that at 240+ lbs. Just whose side was my body on anyway?
Posted by: AlwaysQuestion | Wednesday, 14 March 2007 at 06:27 AM
that was interesting on the breaking down of old to groups that might vary. I do hear it from my 55 year old friends that they are into it, but I didn't really feel into it until 60 and even now physically I have to remind myself that maybe there is a reason I had this or that not be the same and it's aging. It's an interesting process to say the least-- not always fun but part of life.
Posted by: Rain | Wednesday, 14 March 2007 at 07:56 AM
I'm glad to see I'm still hangin' in there, in the young-old category. Some days it feels like 55, some days 74.
Posted by: Betty | Wednesday, 14 March 2007 at 07:00 PM
I dunno, everything fell apart for me once I hit 40. ;^)
Posted by: donna | Wednesday, 14 March 2007 at 09:41 PM
All very interesting. So I'm 'young-old'. I can handle that; it takes the edge of just 'old', anyway. I'm working on a lengthy-ish post on ageing. Hope to have it up within a couple of weeks.
Posted by: Dick | Wednesday, 14 March 2007 at 11:41 PM
I'm happy to see that I'm mid-old and not as ancient as I sometimes feel. Aging is definitely an individual process. I have a friend who is 90 years old and doesn't need glasses, a hearing aid, or a cane. She still drives well, sensibly making allowances for her slower reflexes. Physically she is younger than many 60 year olds. Sorry to say that I need all of the above aids at the age of 81 and I quit driving many years ago.
Posted by: Darlene | Thursday, 15 March 2007 at 06:40 AM
Last Saturday I listened to a fascinating talk on this very subject here in the UK, by our General Hospital's Geriatric (now there's a word for you - still in use here!) Consultant. He told us that old is now 85 and still moving away from us. He was fascinating to listen to, reminding us that the old old are usually referred to him by relatives and carers who notice there is something not quite right with the prospective patient. Apparently patients can present with as many as seven separate ailments not realising that some of them can be cured/alleviated and putting them all down to advancing years.
Posted by: Charis | Thursday, 15 March 2007 at 10:57 AM
Young old? Sounds like a contradiction in terms to me! On the other hand, when I met the Man's 94-year-old mama she asked how old my mother is. I replied, "81." And his mom said, "She's young!" I laughed and told her that I'm sure my mom would love to hear her say that. I guess it's all relative but I'm sure as hell not buying into that 60 is the new 40 as someone told me recently. Yeah, yeah, yeah and red is the new black! I'm off to see your views on fashion for us elders, Ronni!
Posted by: Kay Dennison | Thursday, 15 March 2007 at 03:00 PM
I'm new at the computer.I'm still learning.I bought the computer to do grocery shopping.I gave up driving a couple of years ago.I found it difficult taking the senior bus for shopping.I want to be independent as long as possible.I've had this computer a couple of months.I wish you had a segment on RL TV.You would bea terrific plus for the program.love Vera
Posted by: Vera | Thursday, 15 March 2007 at 03:08 PM
I was glad to learn from all of this that I am in the "young old" group. This is comforting to know but I am asking is that for the physical or mental age? My Mother who will be 94 is far more mentally alert than most 50 year olds. I have a hard time when my arthritis flair up come to visit that I feel like the "old old" group. I feel like the commercial for the candy. "Some days I feel like a nut, Some days I don't!
Posted by: Lu Taylor | Friday, 16 March 2007 at 08:07 AM
Lu: This is the medical/physical section of the series. I will cover cognitive changes in the next part.
Posted by: Ronni Bennett | Friday, 16 March 2007 at 08:18 AM
Hi Ronni,I saw your address on RLTV.It was easy to get in touch with you.I watch the news write emails to my grandcholdren and click on TV listings and grocery shop.I don't know what else the computer offers.I also got in touch with Michael Savage web page.Love,vera
Posted by: vera | Friday, 16 March 2007 at 02:46 PM
Hi Ronni, I saw you on tv recently, and am still trying to figure what blogging is all about. I am a reired nurse, and enjoy reading, knitting, crosstitiching, and keeping in touch via e-mail. Thanks for this opportunity to somehow (although I'm not sure 'how').... connect with you and others. sincerely, Carol
Posted by: Carol | Friday, 16 March 2007 at 09:19 PM