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Monday, 16 June 2014

When Does Middle Age End and Old Age Begin?

On blogs, forums, commercial websites, health-related sites and more, it is amazing how many people debate this question.

Invariably, someone will say he or she (usually she) or a friend looks and acts younger than they are (whatever that means). Or someone drags out that hoary old aphorism, you're only as old as you feel.

Both of these age-denying pronouncements appeared in an essay that recently popped into my inbox via a Google alert together with so many additional ageist and anti-aging cliches that it's too embarrassing to link to the story.

Of course, there was the “still” sentence. You know the one: she's 84 and still - take your pick - cooks her own meals, drives a car, plays tennis. And the all-time favorite of everyone who refuses to acknowledge the passing years – age is only a number.

The 66-year-old writing this essay refuses to accept herself as a senior because, she reports, she and her friends are active, some “still” work, others exercise, read, play with the grandchildren and volunteer.

But the people at the home where the writer volunteers “are seniors for sure,” she says with some certainty, because they are “limited in what they can do." She doesn't say what the limitations are but it's not hard to guess.

What she is trying to do with that statement is separate herself, as too many healthy elders do, from people of the same age who are disabled, infirm, demented or even just a little addled, never considering that there but for the grace of god...

The desperation of people in denial of their own aging doesn't happen just on other websites. When the subject comes up here, there are always “age is only a number” style comments or the careful parsing of the exact moment when old age begins (always a long way in the person's personal future).

This defensiveness is, we know, the result of fear. Fear of aging which, if you take a step back for a longer look, is just a smoke screen for fear of dying. I understand that. As the old saying goes, no one gets out of here alive.

But right now, today, I am alive. And you are alive. And if you're reading this blog, you are probably old, or damned close to it – whether you are ready to accept that or not.

And if not, perhaps think awhile on how much time and effort it takes to pretend you're not old. Surely you must be exhausted from it. Surely you can imagine what a relief it would be to just – well, be.

Me? It took me years of trying to arrive a liking my old age, liking myself as an old woman but I arrived and nowadays I look forward to enjoying that achievement for many more years. (Or not – but that's a story for a different day.)

Right now, I want you to know that it's worth the effort to shed the pretense of youth. Shed the mistaken idea of the woman above who apparently believes being old doesn't happen until you can't work, cook, play tennis, volunteer, exercise or play with grandchildren any longer.

But she is wrong to define old age only as the arrival of infirmity. If we are willing to be honest, old age is the natural progression of life from childhood to adolescence to adulthood and, now, elderhood.

Why waste these years trying to be something else? Do you really believe you can rid yourself of wrinkles, gray hair, a poochy belly, mashed potato thighs, saggy skin and all the other physical manifestations old age with drug store potions and wishing?

You don't need to be a Buddhist to appreciate this from Buddhist writer and teacher Lewis Richmond [from his book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice]:

”As long as we keep comparing ourselves to a younger, better self (who may have been better only in hindsight), we shortchange the possibilities for becoming an older, wiser one.

“The wisdom of Adaptation begins in the willingness to let go of who we used to be and embrace who we are now.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Gogerty: Lunchroom Milk, Wedgies and Humble Pie


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

I think any one who is over sixty is old--

And then you can be "young" old --until you are not---

I just hate the obsession (pushed by advertisers of everything under the sun)that some women get into to constantly strive to look younger! Younger than what? We are what we are. I can't say I didn't fall for the trap, though, and for year after my husband died I did the low lights on my hair and told myself I looked younger. But it sure felt good when I quit doing it and decided I'd be proud of my gray (and now healthier) hair.

There's a lot of food for thought in this essay. We all want to stay healthy and we think as long as we keep moving we're cheating Mother Nature. I hate the say, "You're only as old as you feel." That is SO not true! Bodies wear out. We can act young but we can't be young. We can't peel the layers back on our faces like the graphics on the old Burdock Blood Bitters bottles show.

Age, like anything else, is relative. Here at the Center, surrounded by septo's and octo's, at age 68 I'm "The Kid". The government officially ages us when they set the retirement age at 65. And then there are those "Senior only, 55 plus" communities that think you should not have to wait until 65 to be "Officially" old.Personally, I think I began middle age as soon as I graduated college and had to look for work. Nothing ages you more than unemployment.

I'm really not concerned about looking younger, just looking presentable. I had my children in my mid to late 30's, and they have been in no hurry to have children. So now that finally I have grandchildren, I want to keep my body, mind and appearance "in shape" so I can enjoy them and do things with them. That doesn't mean anti-aging products or activities, though.

Just as ‘elderly’ has come to mean frail or infirm, as we live longer and longer, why wouldn’t people in their early sixties who haven’t experienced much limitation, still think ‘old’ is an adjective you use for ‘other people’. Until you’ve experienced the creakiness and pain that inevitably comes with decline, denial is the standard MO. As long as you treat others with respect, I don’t care what you think about yourself.

If you find old age abhorrent, maybe you’ll get lucky and have cancer take you out in your fifties or sixties. Cancer finds that age group positively delicious.

Ronni has acknowledged many times that we age quite differently from one another, so the only specific number that means anything is 65 – for statistical purposes. If you’re asking for your senior discount, then you’re old. Can’t have it both ways.

In my mind middle age drifted out of my life sometime in my late 60's along with my ability to rest up over night and work five days a week. So for me that's when middle age ended. I think it's different for everyone. My sister who is two years younger than I, thinks she's been old since her middle 50's, around 55 and I think she was.

Having had a chronic disease since childhood I have always had days when I felt old because of illness so I guess early on I associated "old" with fatigue and illness. Since then I've learned to discern when I'm having a relapse from when I have just slowed down a little more age-wise. I can still do a day long road trip but I need to take it easy the next day or so, no more overnight there and back as in my middle age. So the acute need for rest and recovery seems to have been the border between middle age and old age for me.

At past 70 I have come to see myself as an old woman, good day or a bad one and its okay with me. Aging has proved a more interesting process that I ever imagined. A bit of an adventure.

I love this post Ronni. Aging is most certainly a wonderful basis for spiritual practice. You don't get to be a true elder just by getting older but by consciously embracing the process and living fully into every moment, all the way to the end.

I am 62, pretty active, don't think of myself as particularly "old". Last year my sweet 6 yr old grandson turned to me out of the blue and innocently said, "You are old, Gaga, really old." Out of the mouths of babes....

I make a distinction between trying to look younger and trying to feel physically younger. I think it's a mistake to just sit down and say, "Well, I'm old. I can't do active things anymore" because that will hasten the body's deterioration. So I do all kinds of exercising in an attempt to not deteriorate any faster than necessary. If I'm going to go on living, I want to do as many things as possible for as long as possible.

Last winter, for example, I began having a problem with my knee that forced me to stop the distance walking I like to do. So I switched to swimming to maintain my fitness and I faithfully did exercises a physical therapist prescribed for me. I've now regained some ability to walk, though it's clear to me that the knee will never be the same. It's also clear that I will continue doing those daily PT exercises because I want to keep my ability to walk for as long as I possibly can.

It seems to me that healthy aging is a mixture of extra work and acceptance. I'm willing to do extra work to maintain abilities I used to take for granted, at the same time accepting that my physical abilities will deteriorate no matter what I do.

As for the looks side of things, there's some balance there too. I'm going to go on styling my hair (though I will NOT color it), keeping my weight down and wearing makeup and clothes that flatter me, but I'm not going to spend good money on expensive anti-aging products that don't do what they claim to do anyway.

At the last Oscars ceremony they trotted out actress Kim Novak, who had had so much work done on her face that she looked like the Joker from Batman. Compare that look to Judi Dench, who is wrinkled but beautiful. It's possible to be both.

Great points! Thanks for this!

Great post & great responses! I'm old.......77 & I know it. In my 60s I felt very well & remained very active, but I didn't kid myself, I thought I knew what to expect, but I didn't. There's no way to know how we'll feel when we're older, so I just do the best I can. Being a caregiver has interfered quite a bit in my life, but that too, I'm trying to manage by keeping everything simple whenever possible.
So I think I'm like Nancy who makes a distinction between trying to avoid old age by looking & acting younger. I'm very gray & wrinkled, but walk every day & will begin water aerobics soon. I'd like to do Tai Chi also, but I'm limited by time constraints. And yes, I do care about dressing well with some light makeup when I'm out & about. Doing so just raises my spirits. Dee

About 5 years ago, I had an epiphany about aging. I realized that--in my experience--aging wasn't nearly as dismal and depressing as it's generally made out to be.

I do struggle, though, with the reactions of other people, mainly those who work in banks or doctors' offices. The assumption seems to be that an old lady with white hair couldn't possibly know anything about computers.

The coded question before discussing registration for the entity's website is "Do you have access to a computer?" I generally say, "Yes, for the past 30 years or so."

All I know is that I am old; very old and my body tells me that's true. We start aging and moving toward the dying process the moment we are born. Some get there sooner than others and few of we lucky ones take many years to arrive.

So to put a number on old age seems pointless to me. We all know it when it happens.

I am enjoying the less pressure of being old. I started thinking of myself as old when I received my first Social Security check and signed up for Medicare.

Oh god, exactly! Old ≠ infirm, infirm ≠ old. Why should it be that if I feel old ∴ I feel infirm? Perhaps feeling old means I feel experienced? Good-humored? Patient? Or cranky, resigned, whatever?

The problem is, maybe, that the true definition of old is how far we are from dying of old-age-related causes, and of course that we don't know until we start to feel infirm.

Not young here, but after my five days a week at the gym and in the pool, it still takes me a while to stand up.

To change the subject, I do so like the new pictures. The last one is just delightful.

Philosophically, I'm with Nancy W. and Dee on this issue, also Madeleine on others' assumptions. I may be older (yeah, I know, the correct terminology is "old"), and at 77 I have to accept that, but I don't have to like it.

Kudos to those who accept the aging process willingly, but I'm not there yet. I totally recognize the fallacy of chasing youth via magic elixirs, potions and procedures (I haven't and won't), but I am trying to retain as many abilities as possible. BTW, I continue to color my hair because, unlike some women, I don't have silvery-white gray hair, and dull yellow has never been my color.

Statistically the average life span is between 78- 82. So that puts middle age at about 40 and about 60 you begin the old age quarter of your life.
For those old age deniers, who still think they are young at 60, I wonder if they have tried to get a job lately.
Fifty four is middle age only if you live to be 108.

Since winning the book "Enjoy Every Sandwich" from Time Goes By, I have had many discussions about this very topic with the seniors I work with. Yes, there is the 86 year old woman who calls herself middle-aged and the 86 year old man who refuses to use a cane because it will make him look old. But more often, I hear comments like "We were born to die." And I love getting old.

I first embraced aging when I retired and decided I was no longer interested in coloring my hair. Six years later I am enjoying gray hair, athletic shoes, elastic waist pants and slower pace for travel and daily activities. Woohoo!

In advertising terms 50+ is elderly. A 50 year old and a 90 year old are worth about 10% on the dollar as someone under that age bracket. That's why a TV show with 10 viewers will be cancelled and another with 1 million stays on the air - the former skews "old". Mad Men was almost cancelled in it's first season until they realized it skewed old and rich. It was the camp factor and youth who started watching it that kept it on the air.

In my community at 50 at the rec centre you get offered programs like Gentlesize which involves stuff like sitting in chairs and lifting your hands above your head and it is assumed all you ever want from that point on is a volunteer job.

So yeah I would say that in our society 50 is old.

I am so much happier in my elder years. I remember seeing fingers misshapen with arthritis and people saying how awful it must be. Now that my fingers are misshapen with arthritis, it has just become a part of me and I've adapted very well. Not at all the horror I thought it was in my early years. There's pain and there is suffering. I try not to get into the suffering head, but do what I can about the pain.

I'm doing fine accepting and embracing every year. doing what my body allows me to do, which includes Zumba, hours of gardening, cycling, volunteering.

I take a couple days off for hanging around.

Never bothered to lie about my age. This is what 71 looks like.

At the villa where I volunteer, most of the senior women have cars. Some use the bus.

They get around.

I've been asked if I am online.

I could be rude and say "wake up, bonehead. I have two computers and a tablet."

"I even walk upright."

"Stick that in their condescending pipes and let them smoke it."

"We all know it when it happens." Darlene couldn't have said it any better than that!

When I was in my 70's and even in my early 80's didn't feel old but now I realize I am old.

After one active day out need to stay home and re-coup for two days afterwards.

Now, that's old!

Thank you Ronni for bringing up a subject that most people don't want to deal with acceptance or denial about getting old. I've accepted it and have a hard time dealing with people who haven't.

Well, I'm 62 and until this past year I was really able to carry on much as I always had. But suddenly it seemed osteoarthritis caught up with me, and dealt a big whammy. I do not move like I used to, not even now that summer is here. My joints/stiffness are a bit better, but I realize I'll simply never be the same. I miss the long walks with my dogs, but if I manage 1/2 mile at a park, I'm lucky.

One side-effect of not admitting to being older is the lack of planning for disability and/or illness. I have just about decided that when I get medicare started, I am going to seriously look at assisted living facilities. There are some very good ones here, and as a widow, I believe I would adapt well. Some have apartment-like rooms and you can come & go at will, just sign in/out. Trust me, after doing EVERYTHING involved in owning/maintaining a home the past 8 years, I think having staff to do most of that stuff would be wonderful.

So, I think denial of aging can bring problems. I accept my age, and yes, I do feel every year when my arthritis acts up. As an aside, the reason I started and continue to read this blog is because it is about accepting your age, not denying it.

We looked at assisted living facilities before moving into a "55+" manufactured home community last year (it doesn't offer any services). What we found is that, generally speaking, assisted living facilities are VERY pricey. My husband (84) and I (77) are able to do most routine tasks for ourselves so far. We hope we won't need regular assistance for a while yet and that, when we do, we'll be able to find it. For now we aren't spending the $5-7,000+ per month it would cost us to rent an "independent" apartment in a facility.

If one or both of us is forced to reside in a facility or nursing home in the future, at least we'll have been able to hang on to more of our financial resources.

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