For three years I defied the odds and evaded Covid. But I recently succumbed to the virus. After feeling awful after two negative home tests, I dragged myself to the local urgent care center where I immediately tested negative for the flu. While the doctor opined that I probably had an old-fashioned virus, she nevertheless administered a PCR test. An hour later, the doctor called to deliver the positive Covid test result. “So much for the two negative home tests,” I lightly commented. As if to add intense insult to an existing injury, the young doctor responded by saying: “we find with the elderly [yes, you read that correctly] that home tests are not as reliable.”
You said what? What kind of insensitive ageist comment did you just utter? The cartoon bubble alongside my head read “WTF.” In the old days, I would have wanted to proverbially strangle her with the telephone cord. Instead, I exercised an appropriate dose of verbal restraint by stating, “I am actually an elder law attorney aspiring to be elderly.” That comment failed to elicit even the slightest recognition of humor. Just what are medical schools and residency programs teaching in Bedside Manner 101? While I was masked during our brief personal interaction, she certainly reviewed my chart with its glaring date of birth. But I flicked on my polite filter without saying more than an expression of appreciation for the good news.
Just when did the age of 60 become included in the definition of elderly? If anything, with increasing longevity, shouldn’t the definition begin at age 75? Perhaps that is wishful thinking.
Okay, in the young doctor’s defense, common convention includes individuals aged 65 or older in the elderly category. So, she was within the margin of error when deeming me to be in that age cohort. However, I have four plus years before I need to reconcile with the definition. Frighteningly, I did the math and realized that I will have an elderly husband in just four months, devoid of any margin of error.
The term elderly is undeniably cringeworthy. I shudder when I read an article or hear a broadcast describing a person between the ages of 60 to 70 as elderly. Just as some may perceive the term to be polite, as in “respecting your elders,” it rubs me as a pejorative. I never use the term to describe my older clients whom I admire and respect. Many have advanced in age quite successfully, defying old cliches and stereotypes. Recognizing that they are aging, they refuse to dwell on chronological numbers. Indeed, I learn from their philosophies and outlooks, while appearing to resemble them more with each passing day. In response, I replaced the phrase “Elder Law” on my business card with “Aging and Longevity Law.”
While there is absolutely nothing inherently problematic with aging -- and I certainly embrace the process – I suggest shedding the use of the term elderly and replacing it with more nuanced nouns. At the risk of appearing euphemistic, let’s consider adopting these terms for the four phases of later adulthood:
Age 60 to 74: Young Agers Age 75 to 84: Advanced Agers Age 85 to 99: Super Agers Age 100+: Supreme Agers
As an Upper Middle-Aged graduate, I now wear the badge of Young Ager with immense pride. I will strive to represent each new phase with corresponding grace, resolve, and dignity.
I refuse to be fazed by the approaching phases of aging. But at some future date, the doctor’s assessment of my status will prove to be correct.