At what age do people become old or elderly?
Aging is a lifelong process and there is really no set age when people become old. Biologically there is a great deal of diversity between people and even within the same person different organ systems age at different rates. How people function emotionally and socially also varies—it is not uncommon to find 70 and 80 year olds leading active and rewarding lives. Researchers , statisticians, and policy makers may select 50, 60 , or 65+ as "old" depending on what question they are examining. The United Nations, which has proclaimed 1999 as "The International Year of Older Persons", uses the age of 60 to define older adults. In this web page we generally use the age of 60 or 65 to define elderly, because most of the statistical and other published resources use these ages.
In the United States and other developed countries defining old as 60 or 65 may seem a little low since the average life expectancy is over 75. On the other hand, 65 may seem extremely old and unattainable to someone living in developing countries such as Zimbabwe where life expectancy is only 45. Table 1 shows the current life expectancy for persons in a number of different countries.
Sometimes the elderly are classified into sub-groups such as the "young-old" (65-74) , the middle-old (75-84) and the oldest-old (85+); at other times writers refer to the old (65-84) and the oldest- old or frail elderly . Categorizing older adults solely on the basis of their chronological age is convenient but it does not capture the diversity with which people age.
Our own attitudes about what is "old" and what it "means to be old" are important, since they affect the way we think about and interact with older adults. This web page provides you with the opportunity to take a Survey on attitudes about the elderly . You may then be interested in using the on-line LinkAge 2000 Graph It program to see how other students have answered the same questions or to explore how the answers to questions relate to each other.