When Is a Person Old?

The government considers you a senior at 55 years old. Social Security considers retirement at 65 years. Corporations consider you less valuable at 45 years old. In professional sports, a 35 year old is rapidly approaching the end of career productivity. AARP euphemistically welcomes new members at 50 years young. In our society, when is a person old?

Webster’s Dictionary defines old as “showing the effects of time or use; advanced in years.” Roget’s Thesaurus considers old as “ancient, mature, elderly, disused, experienced, or getting on.”

So what adequately defines or captures the concept of aging in our society? Is mere number of years definitive? Are synonyms accurate in portraying age?

We tend to celebrate birthdays as an accomplishment of merely living. Those in their eighties and nineties, simply by their age, have garnered our respect. Those over one hundred are considered heroic. The mere fact of living and challenging death is a victory that can be cheered and admired. And the science of nutrition, of medical advances, of technological innovations, and of cellular research has pushed the potential number of birthdays significantly higher.

But it still begs the question as to what constitutes being old in our society. Douglas MacArthur believed “you are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.” Maurice Chevalier summed it up quite succinctly when he said, “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”

But I would suggest “old age” is not the breath of one’s years, but rather their quality. A century of living certainly deserves our appreciation, but if it is accomplished with an independent and productive mettle, it certainly deserves our applause, esteem and admiration. No one knows when the “alternative” comes beckoning, but we certainly can maintain our faith, self-confidence and hope. The latter years only strip us of our dignity when we lose our independence, yield our ability to fend for ourselves and forfeit a quality of life. Once we surrender our lives to the care and the decision making of others, we have become old! Once we cannot climb stairs, sit and rise from a chair, get into and out of a car, walk in a mall, be physically proficient, or accomplish activities of daily living— we are old!

Satchel Paige once asked, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” How would you answer that question?

Submitted by Richard Portugal, owner Fitness Senior Style, LLC;
www.fitnessseniorstyle.com; 201-937-4722

Copyright© 2014 Richard J. Portugal All rights reserved.

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