Studies Offer Varying Definitions of Being Old

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Recently, I was stopped short while researching another story for HealthCentral. The headline, which was published in 2013 in The Telegraph, reads “Old age ‘begins at 59 years, two months and two weeks.”

    The story out of Great Britain looked at a survey of 2,162 residents to determine when they felt like they reached old age. Their response is in the headlines. Youth, according to these participants, runs out at 40 years, eight months and two weeks.

    The study also found that perceptions of aging varied tremendously among the respondents.  Women stated that old age started when you reached 60 years, four months and two weeks, whereas men pegged it as starting at 58. People who were younger than 50 said that old age begins when you reach 46, whereas people who are over the age of 50 said old age begins at 62-1/2. People who owned their own homes said old age began five years later than those who lived in social or public housing. Being unemployed caused respondents to say middle age began nine years earlier, as compared to the responses of participants who worked full-time.

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    Yet another story in Salon pointed to another study that old age was defined as beginning at 68 and then cited a more recent study that described old age beginning when you reach 80. And a 2009 study from the Pew Charitable Trusts asked 2,969 people to respond to a variety of statements about when a person is considered old. The findings, which included questions about age as well as functional ability, are as follows:

    • Turns 85 – Agreed to by 79 percent of the respondents.
    • Can’t live independently – Agreed to by 76 percent of respondents.
    • Can’t drive a car – Agreed to by 66 percent of respondents.
    • Turns 75 – Agreed to by 62 percent of respondents.
    • Frequently forgets familiar names – Agreed to by 51 percent of respondents.
    • Finds his/her health is failing – Agreed to by 47 percent of respondents.
    • Has trouble walking up stairs – Agreed to by 45 percent of respondents.
    • Has bladder control problems – Agreed to by 42 percent of respondents.
    • Is no longer sexually active – Agreed to by 33 percent of respondents.
    • Turns 65 – Agreed to by 32 percent of respondents.
    • Retires from work – Agreed to by 23 percent of respondents.
    • Has grandchildren – Agreed to by 15 percent of respondents.
    • Has gray hair – Agreed to by 13 percent of respondents.

    Interestingly, the Pew survey also found that the more people age, the younger they feel. Whereas about half of the respondents who were between the ages of 18-29 said they felt their age (and another quarter said they felt older than their age), 60 percent of adult respondents who were 65 years old and older said they felt younger than their chronological age. The gap in years between a person’s chronological age and the “felt age” was found to increase as people grew older. Nearly 50 percent of the survey respondents who were 50 years old and above said they felt at least 10 years younger than they actually were.  Furthermore, 33 percent of respondents who were between the ages of 65-74 said they felt 10-19 years younger than their chronological age and one in six described feeling at least 20 years younger than they actually were.

  • So what should you make of all of these survey results? I tend to agree with a statement in a story by NPR reporter Linton Weeks: “In the end, ‘elderly’ may be more a state of being — or feeling — than a certain age. And the question may not be whether someone else thinks of you as elderly, but whether you think of yourself as elderly.”

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    Primary Source for This Sharepost:

    Adams, S. (2013). Old age ‘begins at 59 years, two months and two weeks.' The Telegraph.

    Allon, J. (2014). Old age begins much later than you might expect. Salon.

    Pew Research. (2009). Growing old in America: Expectations vs. reality.

    Weeks, L. (2013). An age-old problem: Who is ‘elderly’? NPR.

Published On: May 31, 2014