How old is old? Depends on who you ask

Reporter: Amy Oshier
Published: Updated:

The perception of when old age starts is a moving target, according to new research. As we age, most people tend to push the number back further and further.

But the question of ‘how old is old’ is a provocative one. It’s something that 65-year-old Ken Linhoff carefully considered. The Fort Myers man believes he’s closing in on old age.

“I just think at 70 years old is when your body starts to physically change. And your minds start to change,” he said.

The technical definition is anyone over the age of 65 is an older adult Dr. Amber Reale, Lee Heath neuropsychologist

A study published by the American Psychological Association found that the older people get, the later they feel old age begins. Every four or five years, they tack on another year to their assessment.

This explains why 38-year-old Kevin Schmidt sees old age much differently.

“Perhaps 45 or 50?” he said.

His logic: “If maybe you live to 90 years old, I kind of figured maybe halfway home would be 45 or 50,” Schmidt said. “You’re kind of on the later half.”

There’s perception, and there’s reality. Society sets a number to plan for goods and services. Things like retirement, insurance and healthcare need a baseline age.

“The technical definition is anyone over the age of 65 is an older adult,” said Dr. Amber Reale. She is a neuropsychologist with Lee Health. Working in geriatrics, Dr. Reale looks at data that is age-referenced.

“There’s actually a breakdown where we have younger old, middle old and oldest old. And that’s basically 10 years. So 65 to 74 is youngest old, 75 to 84 is middle old, and then oldest old is 85 and above,” Dr. Reale said.

Within these age groups, there are variations in how fast or slow people age. A big part is physical, it includes genetics, medical conditions and wear and tear on the body. Cognitive function also influences aging. There are ways we can impact our aging process Dr. Reale said.

“We have protective factors like exercise, education level, social interactions, how mentally active you stay. And so all of those play a role. So someone at 65 may be functioning like a 40-year-old, and someone at 40, who’s not engaging in those activities, or has other health factors, could be aging or feeling older than their actual chronological age.”

It speaks to why people say age is just a number.

“To define someone based on that is a little bit irrelevant,” said Schmidt.

The study polled thousands of people, surveying them for more than 25 years to see how their perception of aging changed as they grew older.

Currently, 75 is most commonly mentioned as the start of old age. That’s up from 71 a decade ago.

To read more on the study, click here.

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