ELDER POETRY INTERLUDE: Getting Old by Jack Gilbert
When Aging is a Good Thing

At What Age is Someone Old?

An amazing number of people – old people; even people older than 80 – say they are not old.

Some people in that camp say things like, “you're only as old as as you feel.” Yeah, right. Tell that to the employers who won't hire you if you are 50, 55 or older.

Whether anyone likes the idea or not, in the real world it doesn't matter what you imagine about how old you appear. For most functional and social purposes in life, it is what others think of your age, not you, that matters.

Not long ago, AARP conducted a survey asking people, How Old is Old? They report:

”Eighty-five percent of respondents – who ranged in age from 40 to 90 – told us they're not old yet. (One 90-year-old woman said that a woman isn't 'old' until she hits 95.) So who is old? It depends on who you ask.”

Specifically, they found it depends on how old the person is who is being asked.

People in their 40s said 63 is old
People in their 50s said 68
People in their 60s said 73
People in their 70s said 75

Which pretty much proves Bernard Baruch's point of view: “To me, old age is always 15 years older than I am.” (1940)

Here is a small version of the infographic from the AARP survey. Click the image for a lerger, more readable version.

All this shows how much old people are hated – even by themselves. Come on, everyone, say it out loud with me: There is nothing wrong with being old.

Ageism is the last acceptable prejudice. It will not end until everyone becomes comfortable with aging, with including old people in mainstream culture, until age discrimination in the workplace and other kinds of ageism are overcome. Until politicians stop trying to further enrich billionaires on the backs of Social Security beneficiaries.

And none of that will happen until elders themselves – that's you and me – live as comfortably in relation to our years now as we did in our 20s and 30s and 40s.

At what age do you think someone is old?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ross Middleton: Hoping For a Good Ending


I know my body is aging, but my spirit and outlook are still optimistic and curious about the world. I worked in an environment with people who were mostly over 60 and the conversation always seemed to revolve around physical aliments and complaints about life in general. I guess that is when I feel someone is old...when you feel everything in life is a chore, rather than a joy. When the downside becomes the outlook and the beautiful moments of life are overlooked.

Like Diane, inside I feel young and optimistic. My outside is wearing out. Late 70's to 80's, perhaps.

I'm old and I feel old, and I probably look pretty old (not sure how others view me). 60 or so is when I start thinking of people as old.

However, I am still fun to be around, I am useful to myself and others, I think happy thoughts, I enjoy things, I don't dwell on my ailments, I stay busy, people like me, etc. My biggest problem is I can't walk long distances.

Old age is a bitch, but it's better than the alternative. At least so far.

I think I determine age by physical health -- if you are 60+ as I am, and have physical pain, you are going to manifest this outwardly. I've often referred to serious, chronic pain as a noise in your head so it's difficult to focus on anything else.

I've seen many older people who trudge on even with terrible chronic pain, but you can always tell by the way they behave (it's near impossible to be a ray of sunshine when you are hurting).

So I'd have to say I consider those old who have an unrelenting chronic pain that is mostly an aging affliction: arthritis, etc. Some of us have good genes; some of us don't.

For some years this has been my personal chart: 0-30 young; 30-60 middle aged; 60-90 old; and 90-120 ancient.

I am 76 - and have been old for 16 years. Sometimes I am an optimistic old person. Other times I am a pessimistic old person. In general I think that I am a realistic old person. Key here: I am old, regardless of what I am doing or how I am feeling. (I can count!)

Being 65 and in Venice, FL--easy to feel I am not old yet. But there are also so many examples of a vital and vibrant life lived well into the 90's--role models I tend to focus on. Who knows if I will be taking a weekly ZUMBA class when I am 99, but I know it can be done. Is it an attitude? More likely the luck of the genetic draw. At his point I choose aging over the only other alternative out there. Living and dying--all part of the process.

Now that I am 70+ I'll confess I thought when I was a teenager - 30 was over the hill! Once I got there I began the think differently.

At 50 I thought if I ever make to the year 2000 I'll be one of the few left at my age.

For me your phrase 'At What Age is . . .' is not correlated to 'old'.

But if those of you insist, at birth we all are considered (so many years) old. So age is relative . . .

There are no age thresholds.

One morning, when I was 36 or 37 years old, I looked in the mirror and noticed a bald spot forming where a fine colony of hair used to be. At that point I realized that I had misspent my youth and it was all downhill from then on.
But seriously, now that I am 68 and much balder, I'm looking at 80 or 85 as "getting up there".

When I turned seventy, it was a milestone of age that I appreciated. Turning sixty was much harder, because I didn't want to be there. However, to me there is no ambiguity any more. I'm old and I actually like it just fine.

I don't mind being old or calling myself old. It's the dying part that I object to doing. I get a lot of comic relief from identifying myself as old and I guess I do it to beat others to the punch."You are old!" "Thank you Captain Obvious." But to be serious, I agree that ageism is alive and well especially in the job market. Younger people just don't believe people over a certain age can be tech or computer literate and that hurts them if they want to work. Recently, I had a hairdresser say, "oh, you're so cute!" for no other reason than it came out that I can text. Would someone say that to a 40 year old who texts? No way!

I crossed an aging line on my 45th birthday when I suddenly felt a pebble in my mouth. The top of a front bottom tooth had crumbled off. Ever since, I have just been thankful that no other body parts have fallen off.

Old, yes. Stroke survivor with major limitations, yes. Still enjoying life, definitely.

If you were hit by a car and the newspaper said "Elderly woman struck by car" you can consider yourself old.
Also, I do not see the answers to the quiz to indicate "hatred" of old people.

Old Age is really a social category that is defined differently by various cultures.

In the United States, we define old in a number of ways socially.
Age 40 is the age at and beyond which a person may not be discriminated against in employment. (Age Discrimination in Employment Act ADEA)
Age 55 is the age at which low income individuals might qualify for subsidized employment and learn new work skills. (Title V of the Older Americans Act)
Age 60 is the age of eligibility for Older Americans Act services. Due to limited funding, however, services tend to be targeted to those aged who are most needy. (Older Americans Act of 1965)
Age 62 is the age at which persons can take early retirement. (The Social Security Act)
Age 65 has been the traditional age for full retirement. However, because of longer life expectancies, the full retirement age is increasing for people born after 1938. Full retirement now goes from 65 to 67 depending upon the year of your birth. (The Social Security Act)
Age 70 has been used as a mandatory retirement for the members of some professions.
Rather than lumping everyone past a certain age as old, some social gerontologists make a distinction between the young-old (ages 55 to 74) and the old-old (ages 75 and older). Still other gerontologists add a middle-old category between the young-old and the old-old categories.

No matter how the aged are categorized, aging is a highly individual experience.
Chronological age may differ considerably from a person's functional age,
and age-related changes occur at different rates for different persons.

Age-related changes don't begin at the same time nor do they all occur simultaneously.

Generally speaking, age 85 and beyond is considered the "frail elderly".
But remember, even the experts do not agree. There are many people past 85 who are NOT frail.
The definition of old age is not stable or even universally agreed upon!
So you get to choose!
Are you old? I am!

When I was 62 one of my doctors was asking me how I was doing in general, "any aches or pains?" When I said "some but not really," he smiled and said, "well, you're an old woman." I was not offended. I told him he was right.

I was working, had a busy and active life, but in years, 62 are a lot.

There is no shame or regret or need to apologize for accumulating years. Do some of the changes that come with them aggravate me? Yes, but a lot of years (teens!) were aggravating.

Senior housing accepts folks from 62 on. Imagine if "youth" encompassed such a span. I'm afraid we won't get rid of age discrimination as long as people fear death.

For myself, I like thinking of late 60s/70s as young old, 80s as middle old, and 90s+ old old.

I just turned 55, and feel that I have officially made it to old age-Yar!

My mom says "you start getting old the minute you are born."

It's not the number, it's the capability.

It's interesting to see the discrepancy between the respondent's age and the age that person considers "old" shrink around age 70, from about 10-15 years to 5 or fewer; that must indicate something significant. My husband and I recently watched the movie "Liberal Arts". There is a scene in which a college professor is regretting his announced retirement, but is unable to change things. He complains that he had never thought of himself as older than 19. This may be a very common phenomenon, though it is an illusion, just as the one that many of us carry around that we are somehow going to live forever. My thoughts on age and aging began to deepen when my husband and I, rather suddenly, about five years ago, had to begin taking on the care of his parents. They had done very well until their late 80's, but then things quickly went downhill. My mother and step-father, who were born about a decade later than my in-laws, are still doing very well on their own. I already feel myself bracing for life as they near the point at which things will likely suddenly change for them as well. I say this because caring for my husband's parents took a big toll on us. That, in combination with changes that have hit us this past year, with the sudden and unexpected loss of my husband's employment, have left us feeling, at 63 and 65, suddenly much older. My husband has been an insulin-dependent diabetic for more than 30 years. Stress, which is probably the worst thing for someone with diabetes, has hit us with a pretty good wallop and taken the wind out of our sails. The brutal winter hasn't helped, but maybe the warmer temperatures that are coming will provide some respite. While watching that movie, we both agreed that we think of ourselves as much younger than our real ages, but anyone else looking at us might find that amusing, as we may actually now look older than we are.

I have never been able to associate a number with being old or young. Abilities are how I look at the stages of life. We do not all go through the same stages of ability vs. lack of abilities. I guess I would eliminate the numbers and just talk in percentages. Such as "I am 50% able to do all necessary things to keep me happy". These would include the adaptations that we can make to bring those percentages up. Also help that we can accept from our communities and villages. We may personally be at 50%, however; with help we may be at 80%.

Ronni, when you wrote "All this shows how much old people are hated – even by themselves," I was taken aback. I didn't see "hate" in what you cited. And certainly not people hating themselves. We might legitimately hate a disease, condition, or infirmity we've developed because of our advancing age, but that's not the same as hating ourselves. Even in my bitterness at being fired at age 55 I'm sure it wasn't done out of hate. Dislike, ageism, jealousy, economics -- but not hate.

I did think it interesting that men and women define "old" differently. Not sure why. Did the article go into that?

I agree there's plenty of ageism out there, esp. among employers, but I do NOT agree that any of this shows "how much old people are hated." I don't see that at all.

In the meantime I'll agree with Bernard Baruch, except I'm more realistic -- anyone ten years older than I am is probably old. And yet, I'll still take my senior discount.

I was amazed to learn some gerontologists put me in the "old-old" category. I don't see it that way, although my body tells me I can't do many things at the level I once could.

Personally, I think that those of us who consider ourselves "elders" should make a big deal and celebrate that fact as something to admire, respect, and have some fun with. Wear funky glasses and hearing aids rather than try to hide those evidences of aging. (I do the glasses; I still hide my hearing aids behind my hair, but I'm getting there.) If you need a cane, use a colorful one. If ya' got it, flaunt it. Maybe if we had some fun flaunting being "old," the idea would lose its stigma. The challenge, of course, is feeling well enough to do that.

There is nothing wrong with being old!!!!

I am 69 and I still feel great --knock on wood. I think old is at 70 years--- In your 60's you are "kind of old"

I will also side with Bernard Baruch. I certainly don't feel old at 65 and I'm excited about all the opportunities in front of me after retiring this year. It is a tiny bit annoying, though, when someone says, "Oh! I hope my health is as good as yours is at your age!" Or, at the optometrist's office, hearing, "Cute glasses - good for you, at your age!" Would they have said that to someone younger? Probably not.

Aging inevitably leads to death.

Before that it generally brings on any number of aches and pains, disfigurement of all sorts (wrinkles and spots on skin, jowls, grey hair, hair loss, inflammations, arthritic joints).

Add to that loss of muscle tone, hearing loss, gum disease and dental problems. Then we get to the real "fear list": cognitive decline and loss of memory, cancer, heart disease.

Pile on any number of other serious diseases, and with bad luck isolation, unemployment, poverty and assorted other social ills.

With all that loss in store, is it such a surprise that aging is unpopular? Is it any wonder that most people just want to run and hide from all that unpleasantness?

Sadly, old people then become the casualties of all this fear we hold around aging. The fear grows as we watch our parents decline and die (in my case, my father of Alzheimer's and my mother of a brain tumor). When that happens we see how overly strapped the health care system is.

My in-laws are 85 and 93 and still living independently and thriving. I hope my own aging will be like that. However, as the wife of a doctor who specializes in internal medicine, I've heard just about every aging/disease horror story there is. I suppose that insider knowledge has only intensified my uneasiness about aging.

I am 66 and I'm old. That is obvious and it is okay with me. It is okay with me except for the fact that I can't find a job.

I was "outed" at 80 by a friend who was proud of the fact that I had a lead in her play (full length play) and was working on two other short plays. She wanted other seniors in the acting world to know it could be done. I had never lied about my age, just kept it sort of in a grey (no pun intended) zone in order to get roles. But now,four years later, I have no qualms or concerns about saying "yes, I am 84 and I am old." So what? I'm still me, and have survived through 84 years. That is the important thing, imo.

When you think about it, "old" is just an adjective. Like many adjectives, its use is subject to the perspective of the user: the old woman; the tall woman; the pretty woman, etc. So...why do we really care how people define old other than as a point of curiosity?

I think "old" is when our bodies and minds begin to fail. I live in an area where people over 60 are active physically and mentally. I think being around people of all ages is helpful to keep attitude and spirit young.

I don't care about getting old -- I just don't want to look it.

I just turned 77 & I feel terribly old because of several annoying & irritating health issues. In addition I'm a caregiver. Having read all the interesting responses here, I'm going to confess.........I don't like being 77 one bit.......it is interfering with much of what I would like to be doing, enjoying things more. I'm counting on this being just a "bad patch" that will subside....still love this blog, tho' LOL. Dee

For women having a baby over 35 actually makes you a "geriatric" pregnancy in medical terms. I grew up in a poor inner city where the life expectancy is 66.5 today. People there live their lives on fast forward, baby mammas at 17, grannies at 36 and great grannies before 60. You will be referred to as old man or old woman by age 45 there.

I think I would need to really understand my own definition of "old." My emotional reaction now, at the age of 57, is that 70 is when old starts. That's when my parents, now both in their early 80s, started to seem old to me. But also, 82 seems like a very marked turning point.

I just don't know. The metaphor that always comes to mind is that aging is like going down stairs. There are landings, where one stays for a while, and then there are the times of rapid descent.

Unquestionably people age physically at different rates.

The one thing we can maybe affect is the way in which our outlook ages.

Until last year, when I was 77, I didn't feel any big restrictions on my doing anything physical I wanted to do. Then the axe fell and now, while I'm still pretty busy and into stuff, I can't ride my bike, walk very far, do housework, etc. as before. In my mind, therefore, I'm now officially OLD. And, I don't mind calling myself an old lady to all and sundry, because I still have an attitude that says, old is hard but old is OK and better than the alternative.

So, to me, a naturally physically active person, old is when you can't keep up with the herd. Luckily, I don't have to fear predators making a meal of me!

I'll be 90 in less than a month so my definition of old is 91.

This post inspired sooooo many wonderful, pithy, insightful comments! I too feel I'm joining a group of friends for my morning coffee.

I too feel it's fear rather than hatred (at least among the mentally well balanced) that causes the problems. But another way to view the perception of 'old' would be to take a poll on who wants to die young, or get old. I'm betting getting old would be the winner by a landslide!

"...the full retirement age is increasing for people born after 1938."

Clarification: The statement is true for anyone born after 12/31/1937.

BTW: I really worry about people who define "old" as, "...when our bodies and minds begin to fail." "Old" refers to age. Peoples minds and/or bodies can and do fail at any age - even prior to birth. Old age is not a disability.

Next week I'll be 68 and I consider this old. But that doesn't equal bad, or washed up. I'm old but I'm busy, and creative, and doing what I want to do.

I appreciate your debunking that obnoxious line "You're only as old as you feel." It's meaningless and it's more hatred of old.

If you think that infographic is bad, check out this one...on a science blog by someone who purports to support diversity, no less.


I only recently started to feel "old" probably because I will be 80 on my next birthday in September. I actually don't physically feel old and I don't think that I look old (but that of course is my opinion). I am very active - designing and creating wearable art and I sew just about every day of my life and this activity is what keeps me going. I would be lost if I could not work with my hands and I am thankful to be able to do so.
On the other hand I am beginning to feel like I am waiting to die - I suppose, because that will of course happen.
I would like to have a more positive outlook on this aging thing but I guess I am more realistic about what is inevitable.

I am 77; walk 5 miles/day ; (used to run 43 mi. wk!) I take no pills; have nothing wrong with me. Correct weight. No aches & pains; no arthritis. I attribute this to exercise since I was 28 daily. I do have good genes from my father who lived until 97 & died while talking to someone suddenly. He had a very healthy life. My mother abused herself & died at 80 after being in a wheel chair for 10 yrs..

Here's to good health & enjoyment of what time we have left!

I'll turn 70 in a couple of months. Age wise I'm old. However, I still run 3 miles a day and swim 1/4 mile a day. I'm not physically restricted in anything I do, except I'm a little "stiff" when I start. So I'm old, but not too impaired. One day something will break and I'll be significantly limited in the scope of what I can do. At that point I'll be "really old".

Old is being offered a seat on a bus 🚌 - no thanks I say at nearly 74, but I would be grateful if you could put my suitcase on that shelf up there!

If I may opine. I'm 67 ( actually 66 but I've always counted the time in my moms womb as credit earned ) and it's not a big deal. I was slow to mature in my youth and was teased about it but was still able to function as long as I wasn't in gym class. Not being able to fit in with the cliqued allowed me to focus on playing the guitar, keyboards, and drums as my amigo. Ended up forming a rock band and played my heart and got the gal. Then the draft got me... still not matured... but they didn't care. After four years in the merchant marines and army, I had hair on my chest, a muscle mass, and lots of testosterone. What helped me to stay younger than I was at the time was making up for lost time. So though I'm 67, in my head I'm about seven years younger and my body is in the same condition as a young buck. So what the point of focusing on age... it happens if your have good genes, eat right, think positive, and play a musical instrument to relieve stress. I thank God and my wife of 40 years to keep me grounded. Age..... over rated. Peace and Love

I am 85 and I’ve just finished reading all of the above comments because I found myself wondering how other people cope with being “old”. They seem to have a variety of methods, none of which appealed to me. I think of myself instead like the aged Ulysses in the poem by Tennyson with the same title. “I am not now that which I once was”...and “That which I am, I am”. Death closes all but oddly I am not afraid of death, only sorry that I won’t be around to see how time will go on without me present to participate. But I might be wrong about that, maybe somehow I will be around. New experience has always attracted me; maybe I WILL be around. Further information is just around the corner, I suspect.

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