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aging and sense of time

Image from Andrik Langfield on Unsplash.

When you google “You know you’re old when…” many entries come up. There’s at least one Pinterest board, filled with the kinds of self-deprecating jokes that are guaranteed to lower the status and self-esteem of anyone over 40.

You might see something like, “You know you’re getting old when…”

This phrase should make anyone cringe.

Why is it important to establish a benchmark based on “old?”  

When you know you’re old, or when you know someone else is old, what changes?

Many companies establish unofficial age rules: “If you haven’t made Director by age 50, you’ll never get promoted again.”  and “If you’re over 45 you probably can’t write code.”

The medical world loves to characterize people by age. Never mind that geriatricians say, “If you’ve seen one 80-year-old, you’ve seen one 80-year-old.” Never mind that an 81-year-old could be a bodybuilder like Willie Murphy or a frail little person who can barely walk across a. room. When someone tried to break into her home, Willie Murphy picked up a table, threw it at him, and then really started to go to work. The aspiring burglar was happy to see the police when they arrived.

Once you reach a certain age you’re a candidate for screening tests; doctors go by guidelines, not research evidence. If you’re not on meds already, they’ll keep looking for ways to get you hooked.

Defining yourself as “old” creates a mindset that can be hazardous to your physical and mental health.

A New York Times article asked this question directly: “What If Age Is Nothing But A Mindset?”. She invited men in their 70s to spend two weeks in a monastery that was designed to re-create an earlier era. They were encouraged to speak in the present tense as if they were younger.

The BBC subsequently repeated this experiment with male and female celebrities. One woman could barely walk when she arrived. After two weeks in this environment – which included carrying her own luggage up the stairs – she left on her own power.

Certainly, people experience physiological changes as they age. But the variance is huge and gets wider as people get older. Arbitrarily saying someone is “old” does not say anything about a person’s ability to perform physically or mentally.

I go into this in much more detail in my book, When I Get Old I Plan To Be A Bitch. Edgy title – some edgy content – and also some serious research-based insights. I use “old” metaphorically…to be interpreted as some vague time in the future.