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How old is 'elderly?'

Published October 16. 2010 09:00AM

A six-column headline in our local paper this week read: Two charged in beating of elderly man.

When I went on to read the story, I was a bit stunned to discover the "elderly man" was 67.

In my mind, there is nothing elderly about someone who is 67 - unless the person making that pronouncement is under 30.

My husband is well past 30, but he agrees with the headline writer: "Sixty-seven is elderly," said the man I married who still leads the lifestyle of a teenager.

"No way! I was 67 when I retired, and even then, I thought I was a bit young to be retiring," I countered.

He asked how old I think people have to be before I would say they are elderly. He laughed at my answer: "About 85."

Actually, "old" is the age to which you haven't yet arrived.

I concede that our perspective about age changes as we grow older. I vividly remember back to a high school outing we had at a local park. Parents were invited to join in the games.

When teachers and classmates remarked about how young my mother looked, I had to admit that I was surprised "someone her age" could run as well as she did.

She was 36 at the time.

When you're a teenager, 36 does seem old. But when we cross that threshold and add 30 candles to our own birthday cake, then being 30 takes on a whole new meaning.

I remember a meaningful conversation with my friends at the time we all were turning 30. We agreed it was time to get down to business and do what we wanted to accomplish with our life because if we didn't do it then, we never would.

Looking back, I see how ludicrous it was to assume we wouldn't accomplishment anything after 30. Actually, 30 is the age when most people are just getting started.

Every new decade seems old - until we get there.

Many of us cringe at the thought of turning 50. Before we hit the big 5-0, we think of 50 as "over the hill." There is even birthday wrapping paper and party hats that proclaim: Over the hill at 50.

I bought those party hats for my brother when he turned 50 and I made a lot of jokes that he was now "over the hill," too old to hike those big mountains when he went hunting.

I knew it was all a joke, of course, because I'm eight years older than my brother. I knew that 50 was a bit like turning 30: In some important ways, it was "just getting started."

I think turning 50 is a special time. It's a freeing experience. Turning 50 sets loose the feeling that "It's your time." It's time to do what you want in your life.

At 50 most of us no longer have young children in the house. We can switch from nurturing others to pampering ourselves. We can start finally doing some of the things we want to do instead of all the things we HAVE to do.

When a certain friend of mine turned 50, she said she was seriously depressed at the thought of being that old.

I told her she would learn how freeing 50 was. Turning 50 is like earning your license to fly, I told her. It's a time to soar and enjoy life.

I don't think she believed me at the time. She does now because she did, indeed, start to fly. She has achieved so many laudable things, both professionally and personally things she didn't dream of accomplishing before she turned 50.

One thing I have to concede is that any particular age isn't the same thing for everyone.

My friend Jean Stoneback recently passed away at 90. In her eighth decade of life she was as young and vibrant as a 30-year-old because she sparkled with the joy of life.

While it's true that age is an attitude, age is also contingent on how we take care of ourselves.

I just met a guy whose walking is limited to hobbling to the living room couch where he spends most of the day and night watching television. Like many guys, the remote control is his best friend.

He admits he has been inactive most of his adult life and his weight balloons every year, adding to his many physical problems.

There was a time when sitting on the couch was his choice. Now, because of his physical problems, his couch is his prison.

When I interviewed him, I thought he was at least 70. I was shocked when he said he was 58.

After the interview, I push harder when I'm riding my bike. When I see what inactivity does to us, it motivates me to exercise more, even when I'm hot, tired, and "don't feel like it."

To the best of my recollection, I've never had a doctor tell me to exercise.

While many physicians make it a point to exercise and stay physically active, most don't prescribe exercise for patients.

Instead, they give them pills.

One doctor told me that's because people come to a doctor's office wanting "a fast fix," something they can swallow and feel better.

"They don't want to be told to lose weight or exercise. They feel cheated if they leave the office without a prescription," he said.

Yet, studies have documented that exercise and a better lifestyle improve one's health more than most pills.

Some bodies might be old at 67. But to me, it's still a stretch to call a 67-year-old "elderly."

Well, as many of us know, "elderly" is someone else. It's not the face in the mirror, no many how many candles are on our birthday cake.

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