This photo of aged hands chosen to illustrate “aging” set my mind off in free association. Obviously, I thought a young person picked this one out. In contrast my view of age conjures up silvered-hair people in motion–walking, bicycling, traveling.
My grandmother first pointed out an older person’s perspective of age. I questioned her reference to the neighbor across the street as the “old man.” From my teenager viewpoint she and the neighbor were both old. I saw no difference. Well, did she ever set me straight in no uncertain terms! Oh, no. He belonged in her parents’ generation and about twenty-five years separated them.
Seniors, senior citizens, elderly, or whatever you want to call them are not a homogenous group. In medicine, we differentiated into “young-old,” “old” or “middle-old,” and “old-old” sub-groups. The more diverse patients and people I met, I realized you couldn’t categorize by age or categories. Some people are old well before their time; others appear youthful no matter their age.
My father is one of those ageless seniors. He is pictured here with my husband and I. God willing he says, he’ll turn 95 on his next birthday. He doesn’t view himself as old. He lives independently, still drives, and plays golf. He sends out text regularly from his iPhone or iPad, shares his recent Netflix shows, and roots for his beloved Tampa Bay Rays. He definitely lives in perpetual motion.
In reviewing my research papers, I realize I also made a younger person’s mistake. Dateline 1994, my first major article published in JAMA described women aged 50 to 98. My title: Thyroid hormone use and bone mineral density in elderly women–effects of estrogen. Major oops as I look through the retrospectoscope.
I cringe when the word “elderly” refers to me. Now I understand previous comments of my older patients like “I don’t need a geriatrician yet” or “I’m not old enough to see a doctor who specializes in taking care of elderly.” I would chuckle and say the best geriatric care started in middle age even though they had far exceeded that milestone in years… but not in their minds. Age is not a number.