It’s Weird Being the Same Age as Old People

I saw a saying on a tee shirt that made me laugh: It’s weird being the same age as old people. Because . . . oh, how true that is!

So often now when a character in a book is described as old, the character’s acquaintances go on and on about being worried about the old person, or the character’s children wonder how they are going to take care of their aged parent, or the detectives discount what an old witness might have seen because of the unreliability of an elderly person’s eyesight or hearing. I find myself nodding in agreement, because elderly people can be frail, fraught with ailments, have the beginnings of age-related dementia, or any number of issues.

Then, like a static electricity shock directly to my brain, it hits me that I’m the same age or even older than the character. When did “elderly” characters in books get so young? Or maybe they have always been young. (At least from the point of view of someone my age.) For example, although Miss Marple’s age is never stated in any of Agatha Christie’s stories, various clues make her out to be in her mid-seventies, so that’s the age she’s generally portrayed in movies. But Agatha Christie’s great-grandson thinks the “elderly spinster” was meant to be much younger — perhaps in her 60s.

Either way, these “elderly” characters are a lot younger than I imagine them to be, so perhaps a better question than “when did elderly characters get so young?” is “when did I get so old?” Either way, it really is weird being the same age as old people.

Although I have often written about getting older and have mentioned some of my age-related debilities, such as my wonky knees, for the most part, I don’t see myself as old. I don’t see myself as young, either. I’m just . . . me. Admittedly, I do worry about growing old alone, but even that shows my age ambiguity — “getting old,” you see, rather than “being old.” I have a hunch if Jeff and I were still together, age wouldn’t be a factor at all — we’d continue to deal with whatever life hands us without putting labels on it, but since I’m alone, and have only myself to rely on, it’s important for me to prepare now as much as possible for whatever old age might bring.

And it’s not just me. Other people in my situation — women who lost their mates and have been left to live alone — also think about the same things. One friend told me she had to be careful because what if she fell and knocked herself out and no one knew? This happened to one woman I know, but luckily for her, it was her cleaning lady’s day to work. I try not to think about such things, because there’s not much I can do about it but be as careful as I can (and I do have a neighbor who pays attention to my window shades and gets concerned if I don’t raise them each morning, so that’s a comfort) but this is simply concern for the coming elderliness, not for now. Still, if I were a character in a book, I’d be worried.

In real life, though, I don’t have to worry about being elderly. From what I’ve been able to gather, most of us consider an elderly person to be anyone who is ten or more years older than we are, so from that standpoint, none of us is ever really elderly until there’s no one that much older than us left alive.

So perhaps it’s not being the same age as old people that’s weird. Maybe it’s just age in general that’s weird.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Channeling My Inner Elder

“Elderly,” with its connotations of frailty and dependence and uselessness, has become a pejorative term, and I can certainly understand that. In fact, the other day when someone mentioned that I was elderly, I was miffed. Elderly? Me? No way.

But that comment led me to a search on what “elderly” is. And when it is.

According to the Social Security administration, 65 is considered elderly, though apparently, that number is being upgraded to 67 since 67 is the new retirement age. According to the AMA, 65 is considered elderly. (As in, “The elderly, i.e. those over 65, are most susceptible to the flu.”) The US Census Bureau considers middle age to be 45 to 65, with the assumption that over 65 is elderly, but one does not go immediately from being middle aged to being elderly, from usefulness to uselessness, from vigor to enfeeblement, but apparently there is no word in the official lexicon — or any lexicon — for this younger older demographic.

Other than these few mentions of what age is “elderly,” the consensus seems to be you are only as old as you feel, though that doesn’t tell me anything. “Feeling” is not the same as “being.” Humans go through a general growth arc, developing and then declining, and there does come a time that, despite what you feel, your body simply doesn’t work as well as it once did. The process is slow, so to a great extent we don’t know we are deteriorating until something happens to smack us in the face and wake us up.

The elderly, even the younger elderly, are at risk for various ailments and accidents, don’t heal as quickly, don’t process thoughts as quickly, don’t focus as quickly as when they were young. I realize this sort of determination is also subjective, but there is a cut off point for each of us when the arrows all point downward. (I’m not talking about joy of living or feeling useful and meaningful and even youthful; I’m just talking about physical things, body processes,)

A few years ago, a friend posted a blog for her birthday. She said, ‘It’s a big one. The one after “middle age” and the beginning of “elderly.” It’s difficult to fathom I’m there already. I don’t feel elderly. I’m told I don’t look elderly. However, the calendar says I am.’

I haven’t reached that “big one” yet, but I’ve often thought of her comment, especially considering the falls I recently experienced. Each fall on its own was simply an accident that could have happened to a younger person, but that they happened to me in such a short period of time makes me wonder if there was something else at work here. Maybe a slower reaction time? Maybe an extra fraction of a second before I realized what was happening? I don’t think so, but I don’t know, so I’ve been channeling my inner elder and staying inside when the streets are snowy or even wet. It’s almost comforting, in a way, to pamper this inner elder and not try to force myself to do something I’m not inclined to do anyway. (I prefer to stay inside since I’m not much for cold weather anymore. Or hot weather, either, for that matter.)

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to admit we’re elderly (though for now I still only admit to “getting older”). After all, when you eliminate the unpleasant connotations with which we’ve saddled the word, elderly merely means “olderly,” (which actually would be a cool word if there was such a thing). And anyway, according to the dictionary, an elder is an older person, especially one with a respected position in society. In this context, elderly has a connotation of wisdom rather than worthlessness.

I can live with that.

When I become elderly, that is.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator