Wednesday March 20, 2013
When does old age begins?
By LILY FU
DOES the word “senior” have a negative connotation for you? What sort of image comes to mind at the mention of “senior citizen”? I have friends who cringed with horror at being referred to as one, even though they are over 60 and retired. To them, that’s as good as sounding the death knell.
The problem with labels is that they are generic. “Old” people are painted with the same brush, and in the same grey colour. But there are so many different shades of grey. Author E.L. James will give you 50! If the 50-plus and 60-plus are not quite ready to be called old, how would you address them? What terms of reference do we have? The pre-war and post-war generations? Sounds cumbersome and inadequate.
Quite often the media is guilty of mislabelling. “Elderly man falls victim to snatch thief” says one headline. You read the news report and find that the victim is only 60! I am 64. I can deal with being called a senior citizen as that is what I am. But elderly? Not by a mile. The problem is, young reporters are incapable of making that age distinction. To people in their 20s, 64 is practically ancient.
So until we come up with age-appropriate labels, I suppose baby boomers like us will have to forgive the young for addressing us as “old” and “elderly”.
If numbers don’t matter, and chronological age is not an accurate indicator of physiological age, what are we left with? How would you like to be referred to? “Older people” seems to be the least disparaging and most neutral. With people now living much longer, there is a need to come up with new labels for the old (pun intended) that do not smack of ageism, and that is acceptable to all.
If the 60s is the new 40s, you can understand why labels like “old,” “elderly,” and “frail” no longer describe the active, independent and fun-loving baby boomers of today. By the time we reach our 70s, 80s and 90s, we will be re-defining the face of ageing.
There is a world of difference between growing old and growing older. And it has a lot to do with how we look at ageing – positively or negatively, with anticipation or dread. To take it one step further, by changing how we view ourselves, we can change how society look at us.
Inspiring role models like Adnan Osman, 70, who cycled all the way to London for the 2012 Olympics, show us that growing older doesn’t have to mean the end of fun and adventure.
The world is still there for us to explore. There are new things to learn, and new friends to make. Indeed, growing older can be an exciting new chapter of life.