Lifestyle

Elderly label is a moving target

Graham Hookey. - The NEWS/files
Graham Hookey.
— image credit: The NEWS/files

One of my best friends is turning 60 this week. Let the razzing begin.

It’s not that long ago I can remember thinking that 60 was really getting up there. Now that I am on the cusp myself, let’s just say my perspective has changed.

In the years before statin medication and stents, the 60-70 age bracket was, in fact, a pretty risky one. Otherwise healthy and mentally sharp people fell to the floor like stones, the result of blocked arteries that victims were blissfully unaware of until it was too late.

I can certainly remember attending a few funerals of men in their 60s where the general conversation was how they lived a good life and passed away quickly and with no suffering.

Today, a funeral for someone who dies of a heart attack in his 60s is a shock and the conversation tends to centre on how much he still had to offer and what a shame this was.

Where people once retired in the early 60s and waited for the end, many now retire in their early 60s and look forward to a long life of travel and activities.

Still others, as much for mental stimulation as for financial reasons, don’t even consider retirement until their 70s or 80.  It is no longer unusual to run across people beyond their 60s who are not only working, but actively driving the momentum in their workplaces.

So when is it appropriate to use the term elderly to refer to a group of people in an age category? Legally, I suppose the current age of 65, when a government pension becomes a rightful entitlement can be seen as a defining time.

However, as we will likely find in the federal budget in a couple of weeks, that line may be shifting to 67, perhaps even later.

In essence, elderly is a label that is a moving target. I’ve met people who exhibit elderly characteristics well before they get to 60 and I’ve met people with more energy and enthusiasm than 20-somethings long after they’ve left the sixth decade.

Perhaps we should be careful of the use of the term elderly. It may well be one that is intended to carry a negative connotation, some implication that vitality and independence has been lost, or at least compromised.  Clearly, that’s not a word that has a specific timeline attached to it and thus can be stuck on a population of a specific age.

Maybe my friend’s impending entrance to the decade I once viewed as the domain of the elderly has given me pause to reflect on my own age and status. Perhaps I’m just a bit sensitive about potentially being viewed as over-the-hill.  Seriously, I know I have some white trim details, but I really don’t feel like I should be sitting in a rocker dispensing advice to the youth who throw papers on my front porch, not that they can hear me with their music plugged in anyway.

I suspect the term elderly, with its connotation that this implies some reduced capacity, will soon become a politically incorrect one, left out of government documents for fear of offending large pockets of voters. I would suggest it will not be replaced by another term to describe a group, but that a whole host of terms that describe individual differences will be preferred. You can, after all, be hearing and sight impaired at any age just as you can be independent and gainfully employed at just about any age.

Yes, I’m going to have lunch with my friend who I will have great delight in teasing about being fitness-impaired, sight-impaired, energy-impaired and enhanced with a state-of-the art pacemaker. Now, all I have to do is remember where we are supposed to meet.

 

Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and elder care (ghookey@yahoo.com).

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