Redefining “old”

This is a re-post from The Telegraph, a UK news source. It’s about how the current generation of “older adults” are redefining what aging and what old means. This has been a hot topic in the field of Gerontology over the past decade or so, and there is a growing popular opinion that “old” doesn’t begin until age 75, whereas it currently is defined as starting at age 65.

65 year olds are considered “young-old” by Gerontology definition. This definition is based on former UK retirement age programs. The United Nations defines “old” as starting with age 60, and the WHO has even defined “old” as starting at age 50 for certain studies on aging in Africa (where life expectancy is lower than in Western countries). And, of course, if you ask people who are younger than 25, many of them will say that “old” starts in your 30s or 40s – ah, the follies of youth!

The interesting part is that in recent years, people are living healthy and active lives well into their 70s or 80s, and many are not retiring until after age 65. This is causing us to redefine “old” not only based on retirement ages, but also on the lives that people are living.

Popular Gerontology definitions of “old”:

Young-old:  ages 65-74

Middle-old:  ages 75-84

Oldest-old:  ages 85+

I am always a little happy inside when I hear people say, “I’m old” and I get to tell them that by definition, the earliest that one is considered old is age 65. Especially when they are under age 60. And I think they are a little happy inside to hear that as well 🙂

Middle age now lasts until 74 as baby boomers refuse to grow old

Old age does not begin until 74, researchers suggest in a new report which looks at the real impact of an ageing population

Old age does not begin until 74, researchers suggest in a new report which looks at the real impact of an ageing population

Old age does not begin until 74, researchers suggest in a new report which looks at the real impact of an ageing population Photo: Alamy

Collecting the state pension and bus pass at 65 has traditionally been seen as a watershed moment where middle age ends and the twilight years begin.

But new research suggests that old age now starts at 74, with middle age lasting at least nine years longer than current estimates.

Academics from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna, Austria, argue that old age should be measured not by age, but by how long people have left to live.

In the 1950s a 65-year-old in Britain could expect to live a further 15 years.

But today’s baby boomers are expected to live far longer after retirement. A recent estimate by the Office for National Statistics suggests that the average retiree can look forward to drawing their pension for up to 24 years – as much as 50 per cent longer than their parents’ generation.

Researchers say that old age should be defined as having 15 or fewer years left to live, which for the baby boomers means that they are still middle aged until their 74th year.

“If you don’t consider people old just because they reached age 65 but instead take into account how long they have left to live, then the faster the increase in life expectancy, the less aging is actually going on,” said Sergei Scherbov, World Population Program Deputy Director, at IIASA.

“Older people in the future will have many characteristics exhibited by younger people today.

“What we think of as old has changed over time, and it will need to continue changing in the future as people live longer, healthier lives. 200 years ago, a 60-year-old would be a very old person. Someone who is 60 years old today, I would argue is middle aged.

Researchers at IIASA applied new measures of ageing to future population projections for Euopre up to the year 2050.

Categorising the point at which ‘old age’ begins is important for policy makers because it used as an indicator of increased disability, dependence and decreased labour force participation.

It is why the government is predicting a pensions black hole as more and more people retire and dip into savings pots.

According to government projections, public spending on the basic state pension will soar from £66bn in 2015/16 to £276bn in 2060/61.

Chancellor George Osborne has brought forward plans to raise the state pension age. It will now rise to 68 in the mid-2030s rather than 2046 as previously planned.

However the report authors argue that 65-year-olds today are healthier, less dependent on others and more mentally agile than ever before and so economic projection must take that into account.

Alan Walker, professor of social policy and social gerontology at the University of Sheffield, agreed that old age now begins much later than traditional assessments, but said there was a huge disparity in how long people could expect to live for.

“Our conceptions of ‘old age’ are hopelessly out of date because of population ageing,” he said.

“For many people, 70 is the new 50 and signifies the quiet revolution that has taken place in longevity.

“However I would not want to pin an arbitrary age, such as 74, because there is such huge diversity in later life. There is a massive nine year difference in average life expectancy between the poor and the affluent and a shocking 19 year difference in healthy life expectancy.

“But certainly the research is right in pointing to the fact that society has to catch up urgently with the new demographic reality, for example in the labour market.”

An average man who retired in 2012 can expect to live until the age of 86.2 years while a woman who turned 65 last year would have 23.9 years still to live on average, the ONS estimates.

Additionally one in seven 65-year-old women and one in 12 newly retired men will live to celebrate their 100th birthday.

Professor Peter Ellwood at Cardiff University said that older people were increasingly fit and healthy well into their 80s.

He has been conducting a ground-breaking 35-year study which shows adopting a healthy lifestyle dramatically cuts the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart-attack, stroke and dementia.

“It is important not just to live longer but to live healthier,” he said, “It should not just be about adding years to life, but adding life to years.

“We have found that living a healthy lifestyle is better than any pill and have proved that it is possible to fit and active after the age of 65.”

Members of the Caerphilly Health Study which showed a heathy lifestyle protects against a range of illnesses

The research was published in the journal PLOS One.

Read more on this topic from The Telegraph:

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