What do you call very old people?

“Real Seniors” was the choice in a recent BBC poll of over-85s. Although as the other options were “Long Lived”, “Wisdom Warriors”, “The Very Oldies” and “The Venerables”,  it wasn’t much of a choice.

The argument is that we have to distinguish the very old from the merely old because they have different social and health needs. But does categorising people by age really tell us anything?

Yes, it’s natural to wonder how old someone is, but it’s only essential information if being a certain age means taking on certain characteristics. For example, if becoming 13 turns a pleasant child into a monstrous teenager or if being 70 means being mentally confused, we need to be warned! 

But research and simple observation show that these are stereotypes. A person over 70 with dementia will be mentally confused, but only a minority of people over 70 have dementia. Most young people cope with their changing hormones without turning antisocial.

Knowing someone’s age tells us nothing except how long they have lived

We’ve moved away from labelling occupations by gender, unless it’s actually relevant. We speak of firefighters rather than firemen or women firefighters. I’m an author, not an authoress or lady author. What matters is not someone’s gender, but whether they’re trained, qualified and any good!

So when do we need to know how old someone is? A child won’t have the experience or wisdom to be president, nonagenarians don’t have the stamina to compete in Ironman events (so far – the Iron Nun is only 84). But then, plenty of forty year-olds lack the experience, wisdom or stamina to do these things.

Nor does getting old automatically turn us into “Wisdom Warriors”. Wisdom comes when we learn from our mistakes, and keep on learning.


Knowing how long someone has lived tells us nothing about what they are capable of

Our age is an ordinary fact about us, not a label to judge us by. Whether we’re teenagers, tweenagers, middle-agers, middle-earthers, real seniors, wisdom warriors or even wrinkly worriers isn’t what counts. What matters is what we DO, who we ARE as a person, and what we are still capable of becoming.

Do you think it’s important to know how old someone is?

Do you tell people YOUR age?

Let me know in the comments below.

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