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2019-06-11 15:04:00+00:00

Why Your Perception Of ‘Old’ Changes As You Age

My perception of old age is inextricably linked to my grandmother. When I was a kid, I thought this 65-year-old, white-haired woman whose entire body wobbled when she walked was very old. Now that I’m 66, my personal perception — or perhaps, misperception — of old age has changed. I suspect I’ve got lots of company.

Many of us are convinced that while everyone else is aging, that person we see in the mirror every morning is magically aging at a somehow slower pace. The age confusion can start early. A 2018 Michigan State University online surveyof respondents ages 10 to 89 revealed that most think middle age begins at 30 — and that old age begins at, OMG, 50.

Another study, from the University of Zurich, published in 2011, determined that older adults often try to avoid the negative stereotypes of their age group by distancing themselves from their age group. Yet another study, from Columbia University, in 2018 found considerable evidence that when confronted with negative age stereotypes, older adults tend to distance and dissociate themselves from this negative stereotype.

“Baby boomers are redefining what aging is and what old age looks like,” said Jennifer Ailshire, assistant professor at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California. William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology and principal investigator of the Michigan State study, knows this better than most of us.

“People — particularly older people — usually say they feel younger than they are,” said Chopik. “People who report feeling younger actually tend to live longer and healthier lives — and they don’t tend to have as much of a pattern of decline.”

In most cases, people say they feel about 20% younger than they really are, according to the Michigan State study of more than 500,000 people. This keeps ramping up as folks age, he said. Beginning at age 50, he said, many say they feel about 10 years younger.

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