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Boomer Bytes #21: When Is Old?

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

  • See second column – Are We Really Old? – here.
  • See third column – Cars and More Cars – here.
  • See fourth column – Getting Educated – here.
  • See fifth column – Home Alone? – here.
  • See sixth column – Death – here.
  • See seventh column – They’re Playing Our Song – here.
  • See eighth column – Driving: Knowing When To Quit – here.
  • See ninth column – Hobbies: What’s Your Favorite – here.
  • See 10th column – ‘The Last of Life, for which the First was Made’ – here.
  • See 11th column – Volunteeering – here.
  • See 12th column – Duck and Cover – here.
  • See 13th column –  Providing for the Future – here.
  • See 14th column – Here We Go Wandering… – here.
  • See 15th column – State of Schools – here.
  • See 16th column – Our War – here.
  • See 17th column – Behind the Curtain – here.
  • See 18th column: Our Mind
  • See 19th column: Change
  • See 20th column: Memorials

When is Old?

By Steve Canipe

June 6, 2014. I picked up the Charlotte Observer last Friday and was intrigued by a column headline…”When did 68 qualify as elderly.”  The column was written by Frank Cerabino and published originally in the Palm Beach Post.  His thoughts were intriguing and it got me to thinking if I, as one of the first of the boomers, and now aged 68 am elderly.

What is elderly anyway? Looking at Webster’s online dictionary I see that the word “elderly” is an adjective and means: rather old; especially being past middle age. This caused me to pause because according to some actuarial tables, those of us who are currently 68 have a life expectancy of an additional 15.39 years.  If I were a female my life expectancy would be longer at 17.84 years.


If I take the part of the definition of being past middle age and assuming it means a mathematical middle, it would mean that I became elderly somewhere around 42 or half way through my “normal” lifespan. Wow that is a sobering thought – elderly at 42.  I’m pretty sure at 42 that I was not elderly.  My oldest child in 1988 (when I was aged 42)  was only 15 years old and my youngest was only 10.  Wonder if they knew I was elderly?

So maybe Mr. Webster and his minions are wrong about being “especially past middle age” or being “rather old.” Perhaps there is some better way to describe what elderly is.  I have been getting senior discounts for a while now at various restaurants including Bojangles, Hardees, Wendy’s, Denny’s, and a bunch more. (a more comprehensive list is here.) The specific ages vary – but somewhere between 50 and 65.  The American Association of Retired Persons, better known as AARP, allows membership at 50.  The government allows “seniors” aged 62 and older to get a lifetime Senior National Parks Pass giving cost free admission for only $10 compared to the regular price of $80/year. (These used to be called the Golden Access Pass.)  Southwest Airlines allows those 65 and older to fly at a discount.  Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel), which is a travel company, recommends at least one traveler to be 55+ but no longer requires it.

So the term senior may not be the same as elderly if the short listing above is studied.  The ranges for reduced cost or extra perks for senior individuals are from 50-65. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows those fliers who are over 75 to leave their shoes on and even a light jacket when passing through screening.  So maybe 75 is elderly, at least in the TSA’s eyes.

Maybe elderly is not really chronological but health based – well that could create some really serious conundrums if this is the case.  Some people in their 30s have very severe health issues and some even pass away.  But few if any would consider them elderly…so maybe not a health criterion for elderliness.

Is elderly one of those things that cannot really be defined but falls under the “I’ll know it when I see it” ideas?  What hair I have left is pretty gray, I have had cataract surgery, sometimes I don’t hear as well as I used to.  When I was teaching, my students used to say that I had 20/20 hearing – I could hear really well and even now hear better than some folks a lot younger.  But do any of these things mean I am elderly?

At least five days a week, on average, my wife and I go to the Watauga Wellness Center and walk for an hour.  We do about 3.5-3.7 miles during that hour (based on the lane markings distance).  We do pretty close to 15-16 minute miles – not a 4.5 minute mile like I used to run when I was in my teens, but still pretty good, I’d say.  All this Wellness Activity is made possible  through my Silver Sneakers card, which is available to those who are qualified for Medicare and run through my supplemental insurance plan.

According to the article by  Cerabino in the Palm Beach Post, when asked in a survey what is “old age,” the 18-29 year olds thought it was at 60.  Middle-aged people moved it to 65 while those individuals over 65 identify 74 as the beginning of old age.  Maybe it is a perception and not a reality what elderly or old age is.  The various ages given by different age groups would seem to argue for that. So there is no set time for old age or elderliness.

Really does it matter what we might be called – old, elderly, mature, senior, of advanced years, ancient, etc. Maybe what my mom said about sticks and stones breaking bones but words never hurting is true after all….or is it?  I’m trying to decide whether it would bother me if someone called me ancient or elderly?  Being called a senior actually has a nice ring to me.  Words can connote to us pejorative meaning and I must say that old, elderly, and ancient do for me.  Maybe those words should not have that effect, but they do.

Every age probably has its ups and downs.  Would any of us really want to be younger again (unless we could take our current knowledge with us)?  Maybe the best thing is to enjoy whatever age you are and enjoy the things possible at that age.  For a while now when I was coming or going through doorways and a younger man was also coming in or out, he would hold the door for me (assuming he was brought up with the same Southern sensibilities as I was).  Recently I was somewhat taken aback when a young woman held the door for me – I thought she must think I’m old!!

I’ve got to say in each case, that I am perfectly capable of opening a door for myself, but the respect that was being shown to me was definitely appreciated.  I always say thank you for whoever holds the door for me – man or woman.  Maybe we all just need to be nicer to each other – regardless the age or gender.

The late Fred Rogers (1928-2003) better known as Mister Rogers, had a quote that I think is applicable regardless of our age – “Feeling good about ourselves is essential in our being able to love others.”  So whatever age or station, be proud of what you’ve done and feel good about yourself and then love others.

Do you have thoughts about being old/elderly/ancient (yourself, your parents, or other people) that you would share? Let me hear from  your thoughts on when is old.   Send your thoughts, either via email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com or post them at the end of the column. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.