Monday, September 21, 2015

"I don't consider myself elderly."

I was at a party on Saturday, talking with a group of women who were all over the age of 50. One of them had recently recovered from a terrible bout of food poisoning. It had taken her the entire summer to regain her full health because of complications. She looked about 65 or older, and she warned us to be careful of what we eat. At one point she mentioned that food poisoning can be especially serious for small children and the elderly, but included this statement, "I don't consider myself elderly."

I hope my surprise didn't show because she said it with complete earnestness. This elderly woman seriously didn't consider herself elderly. I understand that people don't like to think of themselves as old when it comes to appearance, activity, fullness of life and how others see them. No one wants to be old and decrepit. But this woman was speaking clinically about the effects of food poisoning on people of different ages. In strictly medical terms, she did count as elderly, and her horrible experience with food poisoning supported that. And yet this 65-year-old (or older) woman said to us, "I don't consider myself elderly."

I was barely able to pay attention after that. I kept wanting to ask her, "If you don't consider yourself elderly, what age do you consider elderly?" To my credit, I held my tongue and didn't say anything, but I couldn't get it out of my head. It reminded me of how elderly Baby Boomers are in danger of taking health risks because they don't think they qualify as elderly. Even Generation X doesn't seem to realize that we're middle aged as a recent story showed. It said that bicycle riding has increased, with the biggest surge in males over the age of 45. Of course, the article didn't use words like "middle aged" and "elderly" because these have (foolishly) become bad words in the U.S, but it reported that Gen Xers and Boomers are suffering more accidents and even deaths because we're riding as if we're still 25 years old.

This is the problem I'm talking about: if we stay in denial about our age, we are at risk of doing things that our bodies can't handle as well as they used to. It's stupid. Our villification of age and our vanity about wanting to be young has become a public health hazard. I know how old I am and I don't have a problem with it. I don't color my gray hair, I'll tell anyone my age, I actually use the term "middle-aged" to refer to myself (gasp) and I look forward to my next birthday when I'll be 50. As I age, it's getting harder to hold my tongue when fellow oldsters exhibit denial about their seniority. I tend to upset my peers when I refer to myself as middle-aged because it forces them to consider if they fit into that category (they do). This is one way in which becoming an old woman will be fun. I'll get to help my peers face the not-so-terrible reality of age-ing. Why do people think it has to be so bad?

Yup, this is a good crop of gray hair.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I think people around 65 and over nowadays often don't think of themselves as elderly and I have noticed that many older people, both women and men, dress in a much younger style than 65 year olds would have done 25 years ago. I am not sure what has made people 65 and over dress younger when their parents' generation would always have dressed in a more conservative way.

The woman at the a party also made a good point about the complications of food poisoning and how people should be careful about what they eat - I am always very careful about food, especially chicken and other white meats.