As I reported last month in this column, more and more people world-wide are living to be 100 because of a number of factors, including advances in medicine, good health habits, an optimistic attitude, and a strong social support system. These advances not only drive the future of “getting old,” but they cause us to rethink the definition of “old age.”

What is your definition? This subject is obviously on the minds of prime-ers.


As recently as May, a fellow high school graduate from the Class of 1959, at our spring soiree, mentioned a 2018 article she had received titled “The Future of Getting Old: Rethinking Old Age.”

She sent me the condensed version of a much longer article written by Dr. Pol Vandenbroucke, vice president of medical strategy at Pfizer for Wired. Vandenbroucke’s article, which concentrates on the future of our physical, mental and emotional health, led me in turn to several others as well that shed light on the topic.

One of those others is Dr. Alexandre Kalache, a Brazilian medical epidemiologist specializing in the study of aging and past director of the World Health Organization’s global aging program, who wrote in a Huffington Post blog in 2012 about “How the Baby Boomers Are Reinventing Old Age.”

And a third article was a 2009 Pew Research Center article, “Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality,” the results based on telephone interviews and focus groups of people age 65 and older and those with parents age 65 and older.

In answering the question what defines an “old” person, Vandenbroucke found that the answer varies depending on one’s age, with younger people saying old age begins much sooner than those who are older say it does. Many in their 80s, for example, report feeling much younger than their age.

The Pew Research Center found similar results with a “sizable gap between the expectations that young and middle-aged adults have about old age and the actual experiences reported by older Americans themselves.”

If you are 80 or older, do you feel your age? Kalache, who is 65 and counts himself among the baby boomers, indicates that when his grandfather was 65 he was carrying a walking stick and “shuffling towards his grave.” Both writers are saying that the number of years lived is not a good indicator of one’s age, since the perception of age is changing, especially among the baby boomers.

If you are in the baby boomer generation (born between 1945 and 1965), do you think you are growing old? Kalache was forced to retire from the World Health Organization global aging program when he was 62 — in his prime — based on what he calls outdated “systems and patronizing stereotypes” from the 19th century Bismarck social security model of retiring the infirm with a small pension.

Such a system is not sustainable when, 130 years later, life expectancy has risen 20, 30, even 35 years. He is calling for more flexibility in the workplace with later retirements because the “cost of maintaining a rapidly growing older population” will not be sustainable by younger generations. He claims that the baby boomers are creating a new period of transition that he labels “gerontolescence,” a time when older people who are fit and healthy will insist on participating “actively in the workplace, in society and in politics.”

Of course, the boomers will need to eradicate age discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere first!

What do you think about later retirement and being more actively involved in your later years? Because we are living longer, Vandenbroucke calls “gerontolescence” an entirely new stage of life or “second adolescence” for those 50 to 75 to “pursue our purpose,” in new careers, long dormant hobbies, a “cause,” or with family. He says that “rather than focusing on the limiting aspects of aging,” these pursuits can help us maintain emotional, physical and mental health in the process.

For many that may mean living until 90 or 100! What will you pursue as your purpose in your “gerontolescence?” Although I am part of the “silent generation” (from 1928 to 1945), I would like to think of myself as still vibrant and contributing to causes that uplift society. I know many who are older than I, even in their 90s, who are doing likewise.

As Kalacke summarizes, because “aging has been one of the most important societal achievements of the 20th century” — and into the 21st century, I might add — “we must capitalize on those years by making them as active as possible, for the sake of the individual and society. … There is only one alternative to aging. There are many alternatives to aging well.”

If you are not feeling as old as your years, be thankful. And in the words of Vandenbrouke, “find ways to live healthier, fuller lives.” Until the inevitable happens and you and I become “old,” let us enjoy our “gerontolescence!”