An ageless question: When is someone ‘old’?

As much as I try to stay in the moment, I sometimes get obsessed with the future — as in, “How much time have I got left?” Not long ago, curious about this life-or-death question, I used the Social Security Administration’s life expectancy calculator to see how long I might live. Based on my age and gender, the calculator told me I’ve probably got another 22 years ahead of me, that is until I kick the bucket at 83. (Of course, an accident or a serious illness could ruin my calculation.)

Determining my life expectancy, it turns out, led to another conundrum that’s a frequent topic of conversation among my friends: Are we old? Typically, people decide who is “old” based on how many years someone has already lived, not how many more years they can expect to live, or even how physically or cognitively healthy they are. I will soon turn 62. What does that actually tell you? Not very much, which is why, like many of my sexagenarian friends, I’m apt to claim, “Yes, age is just a number.”

So what does “old” really mean these days?

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