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Anti-Aging Aging Awareness Behavior

75 Is The New 65: Old Age Starts Later Than It Used To

1 month ago

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Posted on Apr 23, 2024, 7 p.m.

According to a new study published by the American Psychological Association in the journal Psychology and Aging, middle-aged and older adults believe that older age begins later in life than their peers once did decades ago, however, the study also found evidence that the trend of later perceived age has slowed during the past two decades. 

"Life expectancy has increased, which might contribute to a later perceived onset of old age. Also, some aspects of health have improved over time, so that people of a certain age who were regarded as old in the past may no longer be considered old nowadays," said study author Markus Wettstein, PhD, of Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany.

For this study, data was examined from 14,056 participants who were enrolled in the German Ageing Survey in which participants between the ages of 40 and 100 years old responded to questions up to 8 times a year over 25 years (1996 to 2021), and additional participants between the ages of 40 to 85 years old were recruited as later generations entered midlife and old age. One of the many questions that were asked was “At what age would you describe someone as old?”

Wettstein, along with colleagues at Stanford University, the University of Luxembourg, and the University of Greifswald, Germany found that compared with the earliest-born participants the later-born participants reported a later perceived onset of old age. Those born in 1911 at the age of 65 years old thought the beginning of old age was at 71 years old, while those born in 1956 when they were 65 years old, on average thought old age started at 74 years old for example. 

Finding that the trend towards a later perceived onset of old age has slowed in more recent years, Wettstein commented, "The trend toward postponing old age is not linear and might not necessarily continue in the future.” 

Looking at how perceptions of old age changed as the participants grew older, the researchers found that as the individuals aged, their perception of the onset of old age was pushed further along. For example, at the age of 64 years old, the average participant said that old age began at 74.7 years old, then when they were 74 years old, they reported that old age began at 76.8 years old. Overall, on average, participant's perceived onset of old age increased by about one year for every 4 to 5 years of their actual aging. 

Looking at how individual characteristics such as gender and health status contributed to the differences in the perceived onset of old age, it was found that on average, women reported that old age began 2 years later than men did, and the difference increased over time. Additionally, on average those who reported being more lonely, in worse health, and feeling older were found to report old age beginning sooner than their counterparts who were less lonely, in better health, and felt younger.

"It is unclear to what extent the trend towards postponing old age reflects a trend towards more positive views on older people and aging, or rather the opposite -- perhaps the onset of old age is postponed because people consider being old to be an undesirable state," Wettstein said.

Is age just a number and mindset? For some, doing their best to live a healthful life, it could be. Perception can have real impacts on our health and well-being, studies have shown that those who believe that old age starts later tend to have better self-rated health and lower risks of heart disease and other illnesses. While the aging process varies from person to person, and there is no certain age that we should consider ourselves old, as our life expectancy (lifespan) has increased and our healthspan has improved, our perceptions of what it actually means to be old has also changed. 

Changing the perception of old age onset could represent a positive shift towards a less biased and stereotypical (ageism) view of aging that takes into account biological aging vs chronological aging. While that would be a wonderful change, it is also worth pointing out that no matter our perception, we can’t change reality, and we still need to plan for the changes that come with growing older, regardless of how we feel. Nonetheless, perhaps we should not care as much about being a certain age and focus more on being healthful and living well at every stage of life. 

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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T.W. at WHN

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