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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Elderly? Are You Kidding?

I don't know about you, but there is more to this COVID-19 plague than the risk of getting ill. It's about being vaccinated and into which group you fall. The CDC guidelines (which many states are NOT following) suggest the following order:

* Healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities should be offered the first * Long-term Care Facility Residents * Frontline essential workers such as firefighters, police officers, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, United States Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the educational sector (teachers, support staff, and daycare workers.)

* People aged 75 years and older commonly referred to as the "elderly."

Since when are those of us 75+ lumped together and considered elderly? When I think of the word elderly, I'm thinkin' ancient, over the hill, doddering, shuffleboard, Miami Beach, leather skin . . . Okay, okay, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, but I'm upset. I mean, I get it that the situation with Covid-19 is dire. And I know that almost 8 out of 10 Covid deaths have been in adults 65 and over. But do they have to keep using the word elderly?

It's like a slap in the face, a punch in the gut. It's a constant reminder of our mortality and how little time we have left on this Earth plane. (Do I believe in life after death? Reincarnation? That's a subject for another day.) I don't hear younger folks raising a ruckus when their parents or grandparents are classified as elderly. They let the classification slide because, in their minds, they don't see us as old farts or, heaven help us, they do. (When I asked my forty-seven-year-old son what he thought of the word, he replied "Old." He didn't have an emotional reaction one way or the other. I wanted to give him a slap upside the head.)

A week ago, fifteen 74-and 75-year-old female friends from the University of Michigan zoomed for about an hour. Most of the talk revolved around politics with a rousing round of applause for the two women who live in Atlanta and who were involved in the campaigns of the two newly-elected Democratic senators from Georgia.

At one point, I asked how everyone felt about being classified as elderly. There were groans all around. No one was happy about the box we'd been put in. But, contrary to negative, sweeping generalizations, everyone was healthy. Vibrant. Engaged. Optimistic, even in the face of the Pandemic, domestic terrorism, social and racial inequality--the list goes on. And, I might add, almost every woman looked years younger than their chronological age.

I found a fascinating Pew Center Research report (2009) that asked a variety of questions, the most basic of which was: When does old age begin? Survey respondents ages 18 to 29 believed that people become old at age 60! Middle-aged respondents put the threshold closer to 70, and respondents ages 65 and above say that the average person does not become old until turning 74. That would have been encouraging news last year but now that I've crossed over the you're-almost-finished line, I object.

Apparently, I'm not alone in feeling younger than my age. The Pew report found that

60% of folks 50+ say they feel younger than their age, compared with 32% who say they feel exactly their age and just 3% who say they feel older than their age.

In sync with this upbeat way of counting their age, the report found that nearly half (45%) of older adults (Doesn't that sound better? Older adults.) say their life has turned out better than they expected, while just 5% say it has turned out worse.

I'm still mulling over those results when it comes to my own life. But one thing I can say with absolute certainty: I am not elderly. I'm a senior. An older adult. A wise woman. A crone in training.

I suppose the one upside of being classified as elderly is that I'll get my Corona-19 vaccination before all those younger whippersnappers.


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