09 April 2010


What does it mean to be old?

New Scientist has published a widely-linked article (via Kottke) this week called "The Shock of the Old," about how the world's population is aging. Author Fred Pearce is perhaps a bit too optimistic about what that means, but it's nevertheless a worthwhile read. It reinforces something I've written about before. As Pearce puts it:

We should be proud that for the first time most children reach adulthood and most adults grow old.

But old doesn't mean what it used to. I regularly hear news reports about an "elderly" person of age 70. But that's how old my parents are, and they don't seem at all elderly to me. Yes, my mom retired some years ago, but that doesn't seem to have slowed her down. My dad is still running his own business and driving to service calls almost every day. He'll happily climb a ladder to the roof of the house to clear out the gutters.

And of course, these days they're both in better shape than I am, at age 40.

I think societies like Canada's, where our population is aging rapidly, will have to adjust, to support people based not on the number of years they've lived, but on the capabilities they have. In some ways, we already do that—I'm receiving Canada Pension disability benefits, for instance. I don't know what that adjustment will look like, and I may not even live long enough to see the change, but it's coming.

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Hope you do, though
Yeah, I want to see you get old and crotchety, waving your walking stick at the punk kids on your street. Or making your robot chase them out of your yard.

I'm under the assumption that I won't be able to retire by 65 so it's hard to think of that as old. Also I bet your parents are fitter than I am too. Your mom could totally beat me up.
"Old" is a relative term, I think. When my grandfather was hospitalized after a stroke, his only complaint was being stuck with "whining old people" on his floor. He was 85 and at least 10 years older than anyone else.
My dad's 71 and would kick anyone's butt if they called him elderly.