Do You Feel Old? We Ask The Question: How Old Is Old?

By Kathy Ritchie
Published: Monday, April 2, 2018 - 8:46am
Updated: Monday, April 2, 2018 - 2:36pm

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How old is old? At age 50, you might start getting flyers in the mail from AARP. At 55, you could move into one of those “active adult” communities, but you won’t qualify for benefits like Medicare until you’re 65. Age is a moving target. And then there’s that word: “senior.”

Turns out, some people don’t like it, and it’s changing the way even government does business. 

If you were a teenager when the TV show "Beverly Hills 90210" debuted in 1990, Dylan McKay — real name Luke Perry — was the smoldering bad boy. Back in the day, he appeared on magazine covers like YM, People and Seventeen. Fast forward more than two decades, when Perry graced the cover of AARP magazine.

Perry’s age and latest cover boy status made news on ABC’s "The View."

And on CNN, the headline was: Luke Perry’s AARP Cover Means You’re Old”

But does it, really? That’s what I wanted to find out. Full disclosure, I’m 41. I don’t feel like I’m 41. And a lot of people I talked to for this story feel the same way. It’s not the number — unless you’re 9.

When I asked Joy Marie and her siblings what it means to be old, she said: "Lazy."

And here’s 9-year-old Jenna: "I think old is old, um, 40s, 50s and up."

To be fair, some kids I talked to offered more, palatable, answers — like 100 or 70. It’s all about point of view.

(Video by "The View" - YouTube)

Still, Jenna and her 54-year-old grandma, Jody Wells, have two very different takes on what it means to be old.

"Um, you start to get wrinkles, and get a saggy throat," said Jenna.

But when I asked Jenna’s grandma if she feels her age, which by Jenna’s account is ancient, she said it depends on the day.

"Not today. Some days I do. Yesterday I was about 104. I think it’s all about how you feel and your outlook," said Wells.

And that seems to be the consensus — at least among those 50 and older.

"I mean I’ve seen people in their 90s jump out of airplanes, you can see people who are in their 30s or 40s that are very over weight, and are diabetics and have high blood pressure and not very well at all," said Deborah Taylor, 65.

And here’s Gentry Gray. He’ll be 82 in June.

“I don’t feel old, I don’t know why, I feel like I’m still 18 or 17 because I’m in good health," said Gray. "Old is how you feel. And I don’t feel old.”

People are living longer. As of 2015, there were more than 47 million people age 65 and older, according to the U.S. Census. A huge improvement from the days of yore — specifically, per the Pew Research Center, 1900 when the average American lived to the ripe old age of 47.

Lately, though, there has been an effort to own our age. Take the phrase, “anti-aging.” Allure magazine banned it from its publication last year.  And AARP continues to change how we look at growing old. And by the way, don’t call AARP the American Association of Retired Persons. They don’t. Who retires at 50?

In February, the organization hosted the AARP Movie for Grownups Awards. "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" won best movie.

"Thank God there’s a Jedi Pension Plan," said Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywaker, in the film.

And that attitude about aging is even creeping into how government does business.

Cindy Saverino
(Photo by Kathie Ritchie - KJZZ)

“We have had to change the way we present information so again, no longer Baby Boomers — it is Boomers, and it’s no longer seniors — its older adults," said Cindy Saverino, who oversees the aging programs at the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

Saverino said Boomers aren’t like their parents.

“They don’t want to go to senior center. They don’t want to play bingo and trivia. They want to be active, yoga and tai chi, a lot of lifelong learning classes," Saverino said.

I ask Saverino if she’s thinking about Gen-Xers and what we’ll be called.

“I don’t know what we’re going to call them. I guess they’ll just be referred to always as the Gen-Xers," she said. "You’ll have to change your collateral; it’ll be a whole new world by the time that happens.”

A new world that in some ways is already here. Luke Perry is just barely a GenXer. So I guess it’s only a matter of time before we see the rest of the "90210" gang on the cover of AARP. 

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