What’s A Senior?

After announcing last week that I was only posting once a month, some of you wrote to suggest I re-post older blogs and others talked about searching my archives. I thought you had a good idea (thank you) and decided to re-post older blogs. This post originally appeared February 28, 2013.

 

I receive a monthly e-newsletter from an organization called care.com. Care provides all kinds of services…babysitting, tutors, pet sitters, senior care, housekeeping and more. I originally signed up with them for pet sitting for when we are away on our jaunts. Until recently I didn’t pay much attention to any of the other topics. But, a couple of days ago I received their newsletter including an article titled, “A Checklist for Aging in Place”. Thinking we intend to age in place as opposed to a retirement or assisted living community, I thought this is a must read for me. But, when the author started talking about walkers, wheel chairs, tripping hazards and the inability to drive a car, I immediately jumped to, “Wow, this isn’t me! At least not yet. I’m not a senior.”

Granted, when we built our house 12 years ago, we built it with the idea of aging in place. With an eye to the far, far away future and the help of our builder, we came up with an open floor plan one story with wide hallways, a huge walk-in shower with bench, and very few steps to the outside areas. According to a 20 year study by the US Census Bureau, 90% of baby boomers are planning, just as we have, to age in place.

But, back to the article. It made me realize there is a huge expanse of years involved when we talk about seniors. My point here is there are so many different stages a person can go through during a fifty year expanse of time that the term senior cannot possibly be all encompassing. In fact, the dictionaries I checked all define seniors as being elderly, on a pension and over either 60 or 65 years of age. Elderly is further defined by Merriam-Webster as “rather old” with synonyms like aged, geriatric, unyoung, ancient, over-the-hill (really!). As someone who goes out on my property and cuts down dead trees with a chainsaw, I do not consider myself elderly! Further, I know people in their seventies and eighties who I wouldn’t look upon as elderly. And, I doubt they view themselves as elderly.

Before age 50 I always thought of seniors as 17 or 18 year olds in their last year of high school. Then, when I reached 50 and saw how many times in our societal order of things, age 50 is referred to as being “senior” I thought this is too young an age to be considered a senior. Ditto for age 55. Now that I’m 64 and hitting my stride I question the entire use of the terms senior and elderly just as I do retiree and retirement.

As Bob Dylan, who just won the Nobel Prize in Literature at age 75, once crooned, the times, folks, they are a changin’.  According to the last census, it’s estimated by 2017 there will be more 65 year olds in the US than kids under 5. And, by mid-century there will be approximately 600,000 centenarians. So, if you become a senior at 50 and live to be 100, that’s your second half of life! Instead of seniors, retirees, elderly, this age group should be called “second lifers”. Or, maybe we shouldn’t be defined at all.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Tell me, what do you think a senior is?

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14 comments on “What’s A Senior?

  1. I will be 58 tomorrow and have been retired for 3 years. I certainly don’t consider myself a senior even though some folks do. I do take the senior discounts when I can get them. I work harder now than I did every day teaching school for 34 years (we own our own business now). Maybe I should go back to teaching to get some rest. Who said retirement was for slowing down and resting? The one advantage is we can close up shop and travel when we want.

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  2. I am 67 and on Medicare. But I still run, compete in track and field, recently helped my son drive across the country, often walk to the grocery store for light shopping….in other words, I’m active and healthy. Yesterday,however, I had a “wellness check”, offered for Medicare patients. My doctor knows my lifestyle and we both laughed when she asked me if I’m able to dress myself, cook, had any falls, and other safety questions. I’m not yet that kind of senior. As you said, there is a huge range in health and activity levels for folks our age. The safety questions surely do not yet apply to me,….hopefully, not for a long time! But I’ll still take the senior discounts! LOL

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  3. I’m so glad you are planning to re-post previous blogs. As a relatively new reader, I look forward to new-to-me posts.

    Regarding what is a senior, I had to laugh at the dictionary definitions. Funny how our perceptions change with age.

    When I think of myself, elderly does not come to mind. I like to think that my thinking is still young at heart. At least that is the way I feel. I had not heard of care.com. I just gave it a quick glance. It may be helpful in the future as I look for some help with home care for my husband.

    Thanks for the great post Kathy.

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  4. At the young age of 52, I’m offended when the Kroger cashier gives me the senior discount without me even asking. I’m even more offended when the bag boy wants to “help me to my car”. I could outrun him to my car. My husband assures me that they are required to ask. You are as young or as old as you wish to be (depending on your health, of course). I’m not ready to be defined yet and will be kicking and screaming all the way to old age. Here’s to the second lifers everywhere! I enjoyed your thoughts. 🙂

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  5. With so many folks challenging words like senior and retired, you would think some new terms would have been created and stuck by now! In the 30 years from birth to age 30, there are so many terms and many of them not too old (no pun intended) – adolescent is within last century. And ones created in my lifespan like toddlers and tweens. And all we have is “aging boomers”? Maybe the next Nobel Prize for Literature should go to someone who creates better language for the 55-85 years of life.

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  6. A senior is someone older than me. I am also 64 and with the exception of the odd creaky moment I feel as naive and lacking in any form of wisdom as I did at 21. I measure time by the age of the children, 38 and 36, and the astonishing number of world events I remember plus the way political and major events keep being repeated albeit in slightly modified form. Here in the UK the way anyone over 55 is considered old, senior or elderly is surprising, particularly when we are being encouraged to continue working up to the new retirement age of 67 and beyond. The next generations may have no option but to work well beyond 70 just to survive.

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  7. It seems to me that the elephant in the room in this discussion is our societal denigration of age and aging. No one wants to be associated with “old people” because of the negative stereotypes about being old. Community-based models for aging in place (like the “village” model) often flounder on the shoals of these negative stereotypes. Those models only work if the younger seniors and the older seniors all join, bringing different strengths to the “village” — but most people don’t want to be associated with the effort until they are having trouble aging in place.
    I do regard myself as a senior, which I think of as a life stage with its own gifts and challenges — and I fight the negative stereotypes attached to the term in any way I can. One of the things I love about Maine’s Senior College model is that it brings together people who love learning across the broad range of “senior” years. It doesn’t matter if some are old enough to be the parents of others or if some use walkers or wheelchairs or oxygen tanks; it is the intellectual connections that matter.

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    • Jean, Thanks for your insight. I especially agree with your comments about the “village” model and negative stereotypes. As someone who used to teach Fair Housing law to real estate agents, I always found the 55 and over communities as separating aging members of our society from the mainstream. I’ve been approached on many occasions by such communities to either write about them or let them advertise on my blog. I’m not interested in doing either. These communities serve a purpose as we age but when I see 65 year olds in great health buying into them and getting their golf cart to ride around the neighborhood, I think they are headed down a path of early decline. One reader commented to me how we seniors separate ourselves from society by moving into these neighborhoods thus promoting the negative stereotyping of aging. Staying engaged in activities like Maine’s Senior College model (OLLI) is one way to change the societal stereotypes while supporting other seniors.

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  8. HI Kathy et. al.
    Thank you for the re-post of that article. I too am troubled by the idea of being attached to many of those mostly inaccurate labels simply because of my age. I am fortunate to be clear-minded and healthy as I turn 65 with an eye towards near term retirement. I think the term “Senior” has come to mean more of a condition or stage if-you-will that would apply to those who are mostly, as you said, aging in place, done and inactive perhaps than those of us who view the coming years as the other half or major part of our lives yet to be lived. I think private industry has a lot to do with view because it just does not want to pay for experience. I recall considering that at age 53 I would be entering the zone for being moved on because of my high salary in favor of younger less expensive executives, in large part why I chose to go into business for myself. I did not want to be downsized, right sized or position eliminated and suddenly in the job market with small hope of being hired for anything near what I had been earning. Society often seems that way too in the sense that it seems not place much value on “seniors” tending more to view them as slow poke nuisances driving old Cadillacs and Buicks, putting a drag on the financial system – better used as greeters at Walmart.

    You have also said in your writings that it is important to enter retirement with a plan. Truer words have never been spoken. I prefer to think of myself and many like me as thoughtful, experienced, educated members of society, who have a lot to contribute and who in many cultures are revered because of their acquired experience and wisdom as opposed to being no longer considered useful and best put out to pasture like old horses.

    I like the term “active adult” or “elder community member”. These labels give the more positive connotation of those continuing to live, lead, participate and contribute rather than old folks getting in the way or burdening society through entitlement programs. I like Jean’s (October 22 post) perspective on this and agree totally.

    Thank you for what you do.

    Fred

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    • Fred, I like the term “active adult”. I agree that industry and corporations have a negative impact on society’s view of aging. We see it not only in discrimination against older workers but also in the push to relegate people to 55 and over communities (an industry in itself), advertising showing young aging individuals in need of items like electric scooters, etc and general advertising using ultra young models. We are the ones who are changing the image, albeit slowly. K

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