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Aging : When do you get old?

 Aging: Biology and psychology 

agingAging and “getting old” are not synonymous terms.  The traditional designation of old (65 years old) has never actually been based on human biology. Some are active and vigorous at 65, and others seem old at the age of 42.  The age of 65 being designated as old actually began in Germany, which was the first country to formally establish a retirement program. 

You can actually answer the question as to when does an individual get old in several ways.  Chronological aging is based on the passage of time. However, this type of aging also has limited significance in terms of health.  The likelihood of developing health
problems becomes more probable as people age, so there is some predictive ability with using chronological age for some legal and financial purposes. Also, chronological aging is also used to determine eligibility for some programs for the elderly. 

Biological aging refers to the changes in the body that commonly occur as an individual grows older.  Vision and hearing usually get worse as people age, for example.  Because these changes affect some people more than others and at an earlier age, some people are biologically old at 40 and others are biological young at 60. 

On the other hand, psychological aging is more associated with how a person acts and feels.  For example, an 80-year-old with an active lifestyle, actively engaged in social and physical activities may be considered psychologically young, sometimes being referred to as “being young at heart." 

Normal and abnormal aging: 

People are frequently concerned about whether the changes that occur as they get older are part of the "normal aging process."  Although there is great divergence in how people age, there are some changes that occur with almost everyone and would be considered “normal”. Some experts have stated that a more accurate description of the aging process would be to consider the more common changes to be "usual".  Usual aging refers to the changes common to many or most individuals, although it does not necessarily mean that the changes are unavoidable or desirable. 

At one time, usual aging referred to conditions which were considered to be unavoidable such as changes in muscle weakness, slow movement, loss of balance and memory loss. However, modern medical science is now beginning to consider many of these changes to be caused or exacerbated by specific lifestyle choices.  Many of these changes can be prevented, treated and/or reversed according to many experts. So, the best question to ask yourself may be whether these changes can be avoided rather whether they are "normal". This perspective may lead to a more healthy view of aging. 

Healthy aging: 

Healthy aging refers to the postponement or reduction in some of the undesired effects of the aging process.  The usual goals of healthy aging include good physical and mental health, avoiding disorders when possible and remaining active and independent.  Most people find it more difficult to maintain good health as they age.  However, there are certain healthy habits that have been shown to reduce the risk of developing many of the common disorders related to the aging process.  These habits included exercising regularly, following a nutritious diet, and staying mentally active. You should develop these habits as early as possible, as they are incredibly important to your ability to age in a healthy manner.  It is never too late to begin however, and developing a perspective of the need for healthy aging allows some control over what happens to you as you age. 

Some information from The Merck Manual of Healthy Aging 

Additional information and web page by Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist Ph.D. Candidate (Health and Geriatric Psychology)  

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