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  • Posted April 22, 2024

What Folks Consider 'Old Age' Is Getting Older

People's idea of "old age"is aging itself, with middle-aged folks and seniors believing that old age starts later in life than did peers from decades ago, a new study finds.

The study revolves around the question "At what age would you describe someone as old?"

Decades ago, folks born in 1911 set the beginning of old age at 71 when they were asked that question at age 65, researchers report April 22 in the journal Psychology and Aging.

But folks born in 1956 said old age begins at 74 when asked at age 65, researchers found.

It's not clear why people these days are setting a later date for the start of old age, said researcher Markus Wettstein, a psychologist with Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany.

"Life expectancy has increased, which might contribute to a later perceived onset of old age,"Wettstein said in a university news release.

"Also, some aspects of health have improved over time, so that people of a certain age who were regarded as old in the past may no longer be considered old nowadays,"Wettstein added.

For the study, researchers examined data from more than 14,000 participants in the German Aging Study, which includes people born there between 1911 and 1974.

Participants responded to surveys up to eight times over 25 years, and one question specifically asked the age at which someone could be considered old.

People born earlier tended to start old age at an earlier date than folks born later, results show.

However, the trend towards a later perceived onset of old age has slowed in recent years, researchers found.

"The trend toward postponing old age is not linear and might not necessarily continue in the future,"Wettstein noted.

The study also considered how perceptions of old age change as a person ages.

As people got older, they tended to push the onset of old age farther out, researchers found.

At age 64, the average participant said old age started at nearly 75. But by age 74, they said old age started closer to 77.

On average, the perceived onset of old age increased by about one year for every four to five years of actual aging, results show.

"It is unclear to what extent the trend towards postponing old age reflects a trend towards more positive views on older people and aging, or rather the opposite -- perhaps the onset of old age is postponed because people consider being old to be an undesirable state,"Wettstein said.

Gender and health status also appear to shape a person's conception of old age.

Women, on average, set the start of old age two years later than men, a difference that has increased over time.

And people who feel more lonely or in worse health tend to say old age begins earlier than people who had less loneliness and better health, results show.

More information

Harvard Medical School has more about aging.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, April 22, 2024

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