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Am I a senior?

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At 59, I am in that gray area (so to speak) that exists between middle age and senior citizen. In my head I don’t feel like a senior. In truth, I may technically be one by the end of the year when I turn 60, but I still don’t find any reason to consider myself one so I looked into what constitutes a senior.

The federal government says I am eligible for Medicare at 65. Social Security varies by what year a person was born. My retirement age is 66 years, 10 months. Anyone born after 1959 retires at 67.  SEPTA gives riders a senior discount starting at 65, and Denny’s starts discounting for seniors once the person is over 55. The PA SeniorLaw Helpline offers free legal advice once I turn 60.

Those ages haven’t been reviewed in decades, so they’re not an accurate reflection of what constitutes a senior. But while I’m at it, let’s take a look at another group of numbers: Life Expectancy at Birth (LEB) and current life expectancy.

LEB is a calculated using death rates, living conditions, gender, income, new medicines or surgical procedures, and many others factors. In 1959, life expectancy was 66.8 years (in general, not differentiated between male or female). Expectancy gradually grew more than 13 years by 2015. It dropped the past three years and now stands at 78.8. Experts say the most recent decrease is due to increased drug use and general despair. Both are alarming trends that so many people want to escape.

Current life expectancy can be calculated through a multitude of apps found on the internet. They use factors such as blood pressure, smoking, family health history, seat-belt use, diabetes, weight and frequency of exercise. No two apps are the same. In fact, trying three of them gave me life expectancies of 76, 82 and 91. At least at 82, my student loans would be paid off. Whatever the number, it made me re-examine how I live and what changes I should/might make.

But all this does is tell me longevity, not how healthy, active or coherent I will be. Physical condition is a great area of discussion among seniors. There are ailments and physical limitations that are more prevalent in older age. There is less ability to fight the flu or infection, memory loss, fatigue, reduced range of motion and a host of other maladies. I admit to more stiff joints, arthritis in thumb joints from using cameras and bicycles all my life, some occasional lower back pain due to being overweight, and maybe a few others.

So it seems like our health is a determining factor.

When faced with my face, I see some lines and locks of gray hair. An interesting thing about aging is that we don’t see it happening. Changes from day to day are minimal. Hair turns color, and we notice the first gray hair, maybe the first few. We have it “touched up” or completely colored and it’s gone only to pop back out in our roots exponentially. I look at my hands and suddenly they seem foreign. I don’t recall when my skin started appearing less supple.

Ever notice how film and television frequently make characters in their 50s or 60s look like they were born 100 years ago? There are many senior stereotypes we don’t realize as we see them because it’s been ingrained as we grew up. A great thing about The Golden Girls was its normalization of people in their retirement years. They portrayed active, cognizant (mostly), involved people, not walker- or- wheelchair-bound ladies waiting for their medication.  

Which takes me to that most nebulous of all considerations: What is my own interpretation of my age, longevity, health, appearance, activity? This is the mental side of growing older. And let’s face it, getting older is always better than not getting older.

Part of the mental side is worry, and I will freely admit I do plenty. I worry about how to improve my health and lower my weight. I worry about whether I will be able to retire at a reasonable age or at least how long I’ll have to keep working to get the maximum out of my only source of retirement income — Social Security. (Answer: A little more than another 13 years. Five more years than two of my three life expectancies.)

But on that mental flip side, I am still curious, adventurous and learning new things. Even with a gout flare-up in January, I only missed about a day and a half of work. I like a good bike ride occasionally and gardening in general. I no longer feel agile enough to toss around a Frisbee for great lengths of time, but it doesn’t mean I won’t go out for a little bit of fresh air and exercise and give the thing a whirl. Considering it wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I tried zip lining, fencing, yoga and skydiving, I have just as high hopes for my 60s.

After wading through pages and websites and my own thoughts, my conclusion is inconclusive. But this has offered me some insights on aging that brings my own borderline case into a somewhat clearer focus.

I don’t feel like a senior; even those days when something might ache. My body may slow me down from time to time, but I still keep going at it. I still look as though I am not a senior, though I’m probably not too far away from being called one. My overall health is good, but I can make some changes that would boost my longevity and delay my senior moments a bit longer as well.

Most importantly, I don’t think I’m a senior. And that should matter the most to any person. Personal, honest assessment will always be more accurate than anything someone else can evaluate and determine. If being a senior means slowing down, then I am not a senior.

In the past, I have used terms such as old man or pops or grandma without knowing that person’s age or background. I was discriminating based upon looks and mobility. I promise I will no longer judge another’s life by my personal yardstick. I will, however, take umbrage when some punk 30-something calls me old.

This final 50s year is going to be one great adventure. And so will next year after I’m 60. I’m not a senior except by another’s label. That’s fine. And let the government give me special treatment. That’s fine too.

But I refuse to ask for a senior discount just because I am eligible. I’m waiting until I get old.


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