Senior Series

Ohio State University Extension

Senior Series

For more information, visit the Ohio Department of Aging web site at:
and Ohio State University Extension's "Aging in Ohio" web site at:

When Does Someone Attain Old Age?


“Old Age” is really a social category that is defined differently by various cultures. In the United States, we define “old” in a number of ways.

Rather than “lumping” everyone past a certain age as “old,” some social gerontologists make a distinction between the “young-old” (ages fifty-five to seventy-four) and the “old-old” (ages seventy-five and older). Still other gerontologists add a “middle-old” category between the young-old and the old-old categories.

However the aged are categorized, aging is a highly individual experience. Chronological age may differ considerably from a person’s functional age, and age-related changes occur at different rates for different persons. Age-related changes don’t begin at the same time nor do they all occur simultaneously. Changes as we age are normal and occur in all five senses.

Typically, the beginnings of change in the five senses are as follows.

This is not to suggest, however, that a person experiences changes in any particular order. People may, for example, experience vision problems with no noticeable loss of hearing. Furthermore, some people advance into their later years with little or no perceptible losses in their five senses. Also, because individuals cope differently, the effect of those aging losses differs with individuals. Generally, however, it can be said, that:

Whatever changes come with aging, most older adults are in relatively good health. Physiological, sensory, emotional, and physical changes do occur, but the human body and a person’s ingenious method of compensation often allow the older person to successfully function in today’s complex world.

Aging Produces a Heterogeneous Population

Aging is not a disease. It is, actually, a series of processes that begin with life and continue throughout the life cycle. As individuals move through the processes, they become more and more different from everyone else. Thus, it is noted that the aging population is a very heterogeneous population.

What makes individuals, as they age, different from one another is a combination of many factors (for example, place of birth, place of residence, marital status, the foods eaten and not eaten, education, heredity, physical and mental health, family size and composition). There is also a time period effect on an individual. A person’s age when he or she experiences a particular time period (for example, the Great Depression; the assassinations of JFK, MLK, Jr. and RFK; the events of 9/11) also influences how they age. In sum, the factors that influence the manner in which people age are too numerous to mention here.

Because of the burgeoning size and heterogeneous nature of our nation’s aging population, there is a rapidly increasing need to understand both the normal aging processes and the consequences of aging on the population. Where once it was unusual for families to have three living generations, now it is not unusual for families to have four living generations. Many persons experience full lives for two to four decades past 60 years of age. In fact, they are quite capable of enjoying life fully until the end of their lives.

In Conclusion: Some Thoughts on Age and Aging

“Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Satchel Paige

“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be.
The last of life, for which the first was made.”
Robert Browning, “‘Rabbi Ben Ezra”

“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”
Samuel Ullman

“For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away,
The sky is filled with stars invisible by day.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Morituri Salutamus,” 1875


Atchley, R. C. (1988). Social forces and aging: An introduction to social gerontology, 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Brain candy quotations collection: Quotations about age, aging, growing older, old age. (2003). Retrieved March 3, 2004, from

Cart, C. S. (1990). The realities of aging: An introduction to gerontology, 3rd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Gillies, John. (1981). A Guide to Caring for and Coping with Aging Parents. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Halpert, B. P., Ph.D. “Health Tips on Aging.” May & December 1985. Center on Aging Studies, University of Missouri at Kansas City (Missouri). Extracted from: Senior Series Volume 1, The Center on Rural Elderly, University of Missouri System.

Morgan, L., & Kunkel, S. (2001). Aging: The social context. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Parent, V., & Fulkerson, T. (Producers), & Goldman, R. (Director). (1975). Age Related Losses: An Empathic Approach [Video tape]. (Available from the University of Michigan–Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, 3300 SEB610 E. University, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1259).

Social security online: Retirement & medicare. (2003). Retrieved March 3, 2004, from

Adapted by Linnette Mizer Goard, Extension Agent, Ohio State University Extension and Judy Hardy, The Ohio Department of Aging

Click here for PDF version of this Fact Sheet.

OSU Extension embraces human diversity and is committed to ensuring that all educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, age, gender identity or expression, disability, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Agricultural Administration and Director, OSU Extension TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181

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