If you think you’re looking old, you’re wrong. According to health experts, as a society we need to completely rethink old age. Here at DEATH, we’ve long thought that we need a new vocabulary for how we talk about people in their later years. Now, research suggests that people in their sixties, seventies and even eighties should still be considered active adults. Throw away your free bus pass and get reading.
Who is actually old?
Professor Sarah Harper, leading gerontologist (the fancy term for someone who researches old age) at the University of Oxford, has campaigned to stop us unnecessarily calling ourselves old.
Only those who are frail, debilitated and dependant on someone should be considered old, and Harper says this creates a new category: ‘the fourth age’. So if you’ve been feeling sorry for yourself recently, and replying to any calls for heavy-lifting with a sigh of “but I’m so old”, you should think again. You can read up on Harper’s research here.
How does an increased life span change old age?
We’re all living longer, and death is becoming increasingly pushed back – it’s thought that those being born now will live, on average, to 104. When that data is crunched, this means that seventy really is the new sixty.
Rather than lumping those who are retired in with those of us who are genuinely old – that fourth age – Harper says the rest of us should deem ourselves to be in “active adulthood”. She calls to protect actual old age as a time of calm and quiet withdrawal and reflection, an earned break from all those years living to the full.
Are middle aged people old?
Middle age really gets a bad rap. It’s the subject of countless opinion pieces, awful films and a whole load of naff marketing in the Lycra and red convertible worlds.The proverbial midlife crisis is a slanderous term (so the gerontologists say!) that only serves to create anxiety about getting older.
Researchers say that there are millions of us who are moving from middle age into decades of unproductive old age too soon. Society paints a picture of retirement, and what’s expected of those of us who reach sixty, which is entirely at odds with how people at that age feel.
So dust off those hiking boots and hunt down that bucket list – retirement no longer means old and incapable.
When should you think about death?
Prolonged ageing will have real effects on healthcare, and how we plan for it. Increased frailty, extended mental deterioration (including onset dementia) and gradual bodily decline all need to be factored into the dying process. At a time when demand for palliative care is expected to rise by up to 40% by 2040, we need the provisions in place to cope with a new kind of death.
Whether you’re young, in active adulthood or you really are reaching old age, you should think about how you will plan for death, how you want to be remembered, and what you want to get sorted before you die.
That’s why we created Farewell Wishes. Would you rather be cremated, and have a small, intimate wake? Or would you like to do donate your organs, instead? Start thinking about it now – it’s 5 questions and takes only a few minutes. Start here.
Find out more
Take a look at our list of the best apps to help you out in older age
How will the fact that we’re living longer change healthcare? Read about it here.