As years pass, age really only a number
The curious third-grade student raised his hand as high as it would reach. His question couldn’t wait another second.
“How old are you?” he said, his head tilted to one side.
I already had been asked dozens of questions by other thirdgraders at Longfellow Elementary School in Gary. Everything from, “How much money do you make?” to “Why did you leave Gary?” (Little kids will ask absolutely anything on their mind, with no concern of politeness or tactfulness, which I absolutely enjoy.)
Rose Phelan, a third-grade teacher, invited me to speak to her class about a project on family traditions, along with tips for interviewing senior citizens at a local center.
“It would be a great motivator to have a professional writer discuss the interviewing and writing process with our students,” she told me beforehand.
I figured having those young, inquisitive students ask me questions in class might help them ask the seniors appropriate questions in the center. Maybe I figured wrong.
“How old are you?” the boy innocently said.
“Well, I’m 56,” I replied, looking around to see the kids’ response.
They gasped. They actually gasped. All 40 of them.
I could only chuckle at their shocked faces.
One girl was kind enough to
tell me I looked 36, but not before I got the point from the class. I am old, at least to kids of that age, and likely anyone under the age of, oh, 40.
How old is “old” these days? And how old is too old in our youth-loving society?
A Harris Poll, commissioned and released last week by TD Ameritrade, suggests that American’s perceptions and aspirations about aging may be experiencing a major shift. Aging timelines are lengthening, with the average age classifying someone as “old” is now 74, up from 68 in 2009.
Part of this shift is due to our expectations for longevity, now an average of 84 years, according to the survey, despite life expectancy at 79 in the U.S.
Yes, we are living longer and it is stretching our perception of old age.
“Our survey shows that people see aging as a time to pursue new goals and passions, reflecting that they intend to live active, fulfilling lives deeper into retirement,” Matt Sadowsky, TD Ameritrade’s director of retirement and annuities said in a statement. “A more active lifestyle at older ages contributes to the shift in our perception of old age.”
The survey’s findings hint that millennials and boomers alike are generally upbeat about the opportunities that come with aging, Sadowsky said.
We are more likely to associate aging with wisdom and experience than with becoming a burden or alling out of touch, with such optimism extending across all generations, the survey says. However, I wonder if this is true for most people my age.
According to the U.S. census, the growth of those 65 and older exceeds that of our total population and the population under 65. Why? Lower birth rates and increased longevity, researchers say. Is 65 the new 45? Or is this simply wishful thinking for anyone 65 or close to it?
For me, my mind feels 36, but my knees feel 66. My curiosity feels 16, but my patience feels 76. Age is only a number, right? Not for all of us. And not for Emile Ratelband, a 69year-old Dutch businessman who is asking the courts to formally roll back his age 20 years. He said he didn’t feel comfortable with his official date of birth, March 11, 1949, and wanted it changed to March 11, 1969.
He’s suffered age discrimination for being 69, Ratelband said.
“When I’m 69, I am limited,” he told The Guardian. “If I’m 49, then I can buy a new house, drive a different car. I can take up more work.”
He has a point, but would his legal battle set a precedent for others to roll back their legal age? I don’t want my age formally rolled back to, say, 46. Then again, I’m only 56. I say “only” because age is all about context.
I recently interviewed an older couple for a column. Both the husband and wife were 89.
“Oh my, you’re so young,” the wife told me.
I politely smiled, know- ing she was right, but only because of her wrinkled perspective.
When I chat with people several years older than me, I inevitably ask the same question: How did they get to be that old? Luck? Genetics? Healthy lifestyle choices? I’ve heard all those responses and many more from older folks.
Contrary to what I’ve always believed, genetics play only a small part in our longevity, according to a new study involving 400 million people, published in the journal Genetics. Instead, our lifestyle choices and outcomes play a much larger role in how long we live.
“Genes load the gun. Environment pulls the trigger,” says Dr. Jacob Rosenstein, author of the new book, “Defy Aging: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life.”
Without yet reading this book, its hopeful title prompts me to ask: Do you believe the rest of your life will be the best of your life? It depends on your age, doesn’t it?
Some people age much faster, and more noticeably, than others. If you doubt it, you haven’t yet attended your 30-year high school reunion. When I first walked into mine, an old friend leaned in and whispered, “Everyone looks so old here.”
All of us there were about the same age. You couldn’t tell, though.
I wanted to tell share this realization with those third-graders. Instead, I joked with them that someday they, too, might live to the ripe old age of 56.
“If you’re lucky!” I said.
Dutchman Emile Ratelband, 69, wants his official age to be adjusted to 49, his “emotional age.” He says he’s been discriminated against because of his age.