When my Dad died …

I was 28. He was 61. At the time I thought he’d had a good innings because he was, after all, ‘old’. That was nearly 25 years ago. Now I know I was wrong. What do I think now?

He wasn’t old. He was in the prime of his life. Given that men and women, on average, live until their early 80’s, my father potentially had another twenty years or more of life! That’s a long time.

How I perceive older people today is radically different to when my father died and I rarely use the term ‘old’.  I generally consider older people as simply that: older.  Not old. I’m much more aware that one day I will be that older person. My own attitude towards older people today will potentially influence how I’m treated.

Old vs older: Why does language matter?

Research has shown that there is a relationship between age stereotypes and health – in particular, cognitive ability and depression. My own research indicates that our attitude influences our propensity to actively save for retirement.  The relationship between attitudes and behaviour is well-established in the academic literature.

In discussions I’m presently having with people between 50-74 years of age, the word ‘old’ is largely associated with physical and cognitive decline.  So long as a person is physically and cognitively capable, no one considers themselves old.

Whilst those I’ve spoken with acknowledge that they may be perceived as old, they believe old is for someone else – someone older than themselves. Invariably, the people I’ve spoken with consider their current life stage as an extension of their life.  Other than a few more aches and pains, the overwhelming consensus is that they feel ‘normal’ not ‘old’.

What is ‘old’ to me?

I associate the word ‘old’ with an inability and unwillingness to happily engage with the world within the bounds of my physical and cognitive capacity.

I believe attitude matters. A lot. Think old and I’ll become old.

Which means? Being cranky. Closed to new ideas. Self-absorbed. Unable to give time, effort, or energy to others for whatever reason, whether that be lack of awareness or physical or cognitive capacity. And yes, physical capability would also impact my perceptions of myself and whether or not I believe I’m ‘old’.

Even if I had these attitudes and behaviours, would I define myself as ‘old’ when I’m there? Possibly not. And perhaps that doesn’t matter.

Maybe old vs older is more about our own beliefs and attitudes. Right now. No matter what our age. Towards those older than ourselves and our own perceptions of how we will be when we’re older.

As Bruce Lee, martial artist, actor, philosopher and filmmaker once said:

“As you think, so shall you become.”

What do you think? How do you define ‘old’? What is your attitude towards older people?


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2 replies
  1. Marguerite Wetton
    Marguerite Wetton says:

    For me, Catherine, “out of date” is different from a chronological number of years lived. I’d love to think that, although I am closer to your Dad’s age when he died than many of the beautiful people who fill my life, I am not out of date. I may have added up a few more decades than I often believe I have, and I embrace getting older, the idea of “old”

    I love to think that as years tick by, I am still able to feel the current contemporary pulse, albeit erratic at times. “Out of date” to me implies: resistance to change, attachment to old methods, cultural and social habits, an anachronism, a throw back, a contemplator of the past. While part of me is tempted to say the world has lost its way and surely needs older wisdom to steer it back into some semblance of natural and healthy behaviours, most of me knows that progress does sometimes deviate into uncomfortable passages, which also hold a learning and require navigation for ultimate growth.

    “Out of date” is a synonym for “redundant” perhaps. May we decline this state as a group of middle-aged Baby Boomers, and add value to the world we’ve rather exploited in our time. Let the inevitable wheels of time roll and bring the wisdom to remain awake, contemporary and socially interested and connected, making a difference until the last breath.

    I do get odd moments tempting me into nostalgia and longing for past sanctuaries of unspoilt wilderness, but to remain current, means to confront the results of my generation on this planet, in my opinion.

    It is a rather a bitter drink, but it does invite an antidote, and who better equipped than us to set things straight or at least to impact them now, in the best way we can, given hindsight.

    I am thrilled by this blog, what you intend to bring to Australia as a large portion of us head on in years, and the community I am sure that will thrive around the intention. It’s my community and I look forward to sharing in it. Thank you for doing it!

    • Catherine Rickwood
      Catherine Rickwood says:

      Thanks Marguerite. Your contemplation on this topic is insightful and greatly appreciated. Thanks for contributing to the discussion.


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