Sunday, October 21, 2012


How does one refer to folks who have lived past the retirement age and are moving on into their 70s, 80s and even 90s? This huge demographics defy labelling. To lump everyone born between 1900 and 1952 as 'senior citizens' is to over-generalize. Senior citizens are not all the same. Many people my age (I am 64) would object to being referred to euphemistically in Malaysia as 'warga emas' or 'golden citizens'. Call them 'elderly' and you can be sure of rubbing them the wrong way.

So we have terms like 'the young old', 'the middle old' and 'the old old', which are just as inadequate and clumsy. If we divide age into numerical units, we have the following age categories:

Helen Mirren - a sexygenarian at 67
between 60-69:  sexagenarian
between 70-79:  septuagenarian
between 80-89:  octogenarian
between 90-99:  nonagenaran
between 100-110: centenarian

But if numbers don't matter, and chronological age is not an accurate indicator of physiological age, what are we left with? How would you like to be referred to? 'Older people' seems to be the least disparaging and most neutral. With people now living much longer, there is a need to come up with new labels for the old (pun intended) that do not smack of ageism, and that is acceptable to all.

If this retired teacher can cycle all the way to London, what excuse do I have not to cycle round my apartment block to stay fit and healthy? (Photo grab from The Star)
Hats off to Eva Ho, 71. Pole dancing is not for me. I'm learning to dance Gangnam Style - much safer! (Photo grab from The Straits Times)

If the 60s is the new 40s, you can understand why labels like 'old', 'elderly', 'frail' no longer describe the active, independent and fun-loving baby boomers of today. By the time we reach our 70s, 80s and 90s, we will be re-defining the face of ageing.

With plenty of inspiring role models to show the way forward, growing older doesn't sound so dreadful after all. There is a world of difference between growing old and growing older. And it's a lot to do with how we look at ageing - positively or negatively, with anticipation or dread.

The Rolling Stones (from left) Charlie Watts, 71, Keith Richards, 68, Ron Wood, 65, and Mick Jagger, 69. They have just announced their concert dates for November and December 2012. Still going strong after 50 years.

Related articles:



1 comment:

Starmandala said...

I like being a planetary elder - a status I bestowed on myself when I turned 52. The idea of being an Elder suggests that a person has acquired sufficient life experience to have matured into one competent to dispense advice and offer guidance to the upcoming generation. It is indeed tragic that humans have been so enslaved by the financial system for so many generations, only a handful have been able to maintain enough mental clarity and spiritual integrity to qualify as "Elders."