When Does A Person Become Old?
The traditional designation for age – 65 years – has no basis in biology. Many people are vigorous and active at 65. Others are sick and inactive at 40. The fact is that 65 years became the basis for being considered old because age 65 was chosen as the age for retirement in Germany, the first nation to establish a retirement program. (In 1889, Bismarck, Germany’s Chancellor, first chose age 70 but in 1916 the retirement age was lowered to 65).
The question as to when a person becomes old can be answered in different ways. Chronological age is based solely on the passage of time. It is a person’s age in years. This has little significance in terms of health. Nonetheless, the likelihood of developing a health problem increases as people age. Because chronologic age helps predict many health problems, it has some legal and financial uses. It is also used to determine eligibility for some programs for older people like Social Security.
Biological age refers to changes in the body that commonly occur as people age. For example, vision and hearing typically worsen as people age. Because these changes affect some people more than others, some people are biologically old at 40 while others are biologically young at 60 and even older.
Psychological age is based on how people act and feel. For example, an 80-year-old who works, plans, looks forward to future events and participates in many activities is considered psychologically young. Such a person is commonly described as “being young at heart.”
People often wonder whether what they are experiencing as they age is normal or abnormal. Usual aging refers to what happens in most people, including disorders that are common among older people. Usual aging does not mean that the changes are unavoidable or desirable.
Usual aging was once thought to include such unavoidable changes as muscle weakness, slowed movement, loss of balance and memory loss. Research has shown that many of these common, “normal” changes result from an unhealthy lifestyle or from disorders that can be prevented or treated and reversed, rather than from aging itself. So the question to ask may be whether changes can be avoided rather than whether they are normal. This question leads to the concept of healthy aging.
Healthy aging refers to a postponement or reduction in the undesired effects of aging. The goals of healthy aging are maintaining physical and mental health, avoiding disorders and remaining active and independent. For most people, maintaining general good health requires more effort as they age.
Certain healthy habits have been shown to reduce the risk of developing several disorders that commonly occur as people age. These habits include following a nutritious diet, exercising regularly and staying mentally active. Developing these habits is an important part of healthy aging. The sooner a person develops them, the better. However, it is never too late to begin. In this way, people can have some control over what happens to them as they age.
These remarks have been extracted from The Merck Manual of Health & Aging, published 2004. My own goal is to increase the average healthy life span to 200 years or more. For this purpose, I have established The Life Extension School.
Art Kunkin is the 85-year young journalist who founded the alternative weekly newspaper, The Los Angeles Free Press in 1964, became Professor of Journalism at Cal State University Northridge, later became president of the Philosophical Research Society of Los Angeles and presently is an Associate Board Member at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, California. A free download of a magazine cover story interview with Art about his research into stopping aging is now available at www.alchemyrevealed.com. Art’s eBook, “Life Extension Alchemy: The Secret of Immortality Finally Revealed” is also available at a reduced sale price at that web site. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Email him for information about the book he is writing, “The Los Angeles Free Press: Internet of the 60’s.” or about his weekly Thursday class in Joshua Tree. Copyright 2013 by Art Kunkin. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Michal Alaniz.