What Age is Considered Elderly or Old Age? 👴 | 👵

Somewhere along in your life, your back begins to hurt, you cannot see as clearly as you used to, and you have problems hearing perfectly. You will inevitably ask yourself the age-old question, “Am I getting old?” Well, the question of age and longevity has several interesting facts surrounding it that call for a deeper look. The World Economic Forum, for example, underlines this concept through a new measure known as prospective age [1], which, in its most basic, looks at the average years one has left to live. So, what age is considered elderly? This article will look at some modern-day age-related concepts and try to debunk what is considered old age.

Understanding Age Terminology

When we hear the word “age”, most of us immediately think about the number of years a person has spent on this earth since birth. However, this is only a single dimension of the somewhat old age concept. When thinking about the number of years you have lived since birth, you are essentially thinking of chronological age, which also happens to be the most common age dimension. However, there are three other dimensions [2], often less considered during these conversations.

Biological age refers to a person’s physical body changes that inevitably slow them down as they get to the middle or older years of their life. Biological age is characterized by changes such as weaker lungs, reduced sense of balance, clogged arteries, weaker muscles, and other factors. The third dimension is psychological age and refers to the mental and personality changes a person undergoes as they accrue more years. Gerontologists often state that these three dimensions of age do not always go together, which may explain why a 60-year-old person might look younger than a 50-year-old. The last dimension of age is known as social age. This one has to do with the changes involving a person’s relationships and roles in organizations, family circles, and friend circles.

Determining Biological Age

While a person’s chronological age is quite easy to determine, their biological age is a tad more complicated. Researchers often rely on two aspects of the aging process to determine a person’s biological age; DNA methylation and telomeres [3].

Using Telomeres

Telomeres are basically the nucleotides found at the end of human chromosomes. They are responsible for preventing the chromosome ends from deteriorating and blending with nearby chromosomes. When it comes to the aging process, telomeres determine how fast the human cells age and inevitably die. Research suggests that people with healthy lifestyles can successfully reverse the aging process by having longer telomeres. It is also said that short telomeres are more likely to result in early deaths.

Using DNA Methylation

The human cell uses DNA methylation to exert control over genetic expression. In simpler terms, DNA methylation helps turn genes off. A study of this concept found that specific human body parts age faster than others.

Chronological Age

Simply speaking, your chronological age is the total time that has passed from your birth to the current date. This age can be defined in years, months, days, or a combination of all of them. A person’s chronological age does not change regardless of their health status. For example, a super healthy 30-year-old and a frail-looking 30-year-old both have the same chronological age. When we meet a person and think they look younger than they actually are, it translates to ‘that person’s biological age looks different from their chronological age.’

Your chronological age is not affected by your sleeping habits, diet, exercise, or other health-related factors. For this reason, some gerontologists consider chronological age to be an insufficient measure of a person’s age since it does not consider the external factors that contribute significantly to a person’s aging.

Social Role

Social aging is one of the four dimensions of human aging. Basically, it refers to the changes in a person’s roles and relationships among their friends, family, and workplaces. While social aging differs from one place to another, it is mostly influenced by society’s perception of aging. For example, if you live in a culture that positively perceives aging, then your social aging will be enjoyable. If, on the other hand, your society has a negative perception towards aging, you might experience unpleasant social aging. The latter is quite common among cultures that view older adults as unnecessary burdens.

Research suggests that some social roles [4] can help slow down the effects of aging. We have all probably heard phrases like ‘my grandkids keep me so young.’ In a study done using aging bees, the researcher found that caring for young ones might reverse or delay the multitude of negative effects in the brain associated with aging.

Ethnicity, race, culture, and gender are all significant determinants of social aging [5]. These attributes place individuals on varied trajectories in life, resulting in different lifestyles, environmental constraints, and behaviors.

Physical Health or Appearance

Some of the most easily discernible signs [6] of advanced age in a person are in physical form. As one grows older, their body gradually changes. Here is a look at the most common appearance changes.

Growing Shorter

Yes, people do shrink as they get more advanced in age. The change in stature comes as a result of changes in the spine. In each person, the spine is made up of individual bones known as vertebrae and disks in between the bones.

The disks act as shock absorbers and have porous surfaces. With time, the pressure exerted on these discs makes them thinner, resulting in an overall height loss.

Wrinkled and Spotted Skin

Generally, a person’s skin becomes less elastic as they grow older. The elasticity loss results in wrinkles, sagging, and age spots on the skin. Some of the most affected body parts include the face, neck, skin, and hands. On the upside, though, the skin may become more resistant to cuts and bruises.

Hair Turning Grey

Hair follicles contain pigment-making cells called melanocytes. These generate two distinct color pigments; black or dark brown (depending on some factors) and red or yellow. The pigments are then absorbed by keratinocytes which create the component that forms the physical hair structure. When hair fibers are forming, their eventual color depends on the ratio in which the color pigments are absorbed. The ratio changes as a person grow older, resulting in white or grey hair.

Decreased Bone Mass

At a point within a person’s life cycle, their bone marrow begins to decrease considerably. This decrease occurs mostly on the bones in the legs and arms. Additionally, the person’s calcium reserve reduces, resulting in a gradual decrease in the overall bone mass.

More Sensitive Teeth

As a person ages, their teeth may tend to become more sensitive to hot and cold things. Additionally, it is possible to experience tooth decay, discoloration, and, at times, gum disease. Depending on the severity of any of the aforementioned conditions, one may decide to seek medical care from a qualified dentist.

Conclusion

The concept of aging has, with time, evolved into one with far-reaching implications and interesting dynamics. While most of us only know about chronological aging, the other three dimensions of age are quite eye-opening. From today onwards you will probably start viewing age from a different perspective.

Citations

  1. https://www.agedcareguide.com.au/talking-aged-care/what-age-is-considered-old
  2. https://open.lib.umn.edu/socialproblems/chapter/6-1-the-concept-and-experience-of-aging/
  3. https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-chronological-age-2223384
  4. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/changing-social-roles-can-reverse-aging/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK83770/
  6. https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/how-does-our-appearance-change-as-we-age/
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