Unpacking the Definition & Impact of “Elderly”

What age is considered “elderly?” This question may be tricky to answer. Check out this article and see our broken-down explanations of old age.

What age is considered elderly?

Does age definition matter when we define what “elderly” is? At what age does a person transition from middle age to old age?

In most Western countries, a person can be considered elderly if between the ages of 65 and 70 in most Western countries.

However, such a definition might change depending on the context, specifically the country and time period.

If you want to know more about what the elderly is, and if you’re curious about when old age begins, read on!

How Old Is Elderly?

There is no standard criterion to tell that an old person is considered elderly.

But, in Western industrialized countries, according to the World Health Organization, they regard an individual as an elderly when they reach the age of 60 or 65.

However, when looking at the mortality rate today, experts see a delay in mortality among middle-aged individuals.

Hence, life expectancy among middle-aged people is increased compared to the prior concepts.


Human beings’ chronological age refers to the elapsed number of years since birth. It is often used as a common reference to describe a person’s aging process.

However, it is also believed that chronological age can’t fully define a person’s cognitive abilities and social roles.

It was also pointed out that agencies providing benefits for elderlies have a different standards.

While some offer social security for people aged 55 to 60 (a.k.a the “young-old”), others will start providing benefits if a person reaches age 65.

Social Responsibility

Functional age can’t define the social roles a person plays. In this sense, their responsibilities can help distinguish whether a person is considered old or not.

This is particularly true among communities with people past middle age in developing countries.

In some cases, a person of old age can be someone who already has adult children, especially if they are already grandparents.

You can also be considered elderly if you have already retired from work and enjoy a state pension.

In other communities where retirement age is irrelevant, a person of old age is someone who does not perform taxing physical tasks and is rather at peace at home.

Physical Health

A person’s health status is also one reference for old age.

When you start to develop physical changes in your body, such as wrinkles, fine lines, and gray hair, you are referred to as an elderly.

Individuals who suffer from several illnesses, a decline in mental health, and are dependent on caregivers to function, are also seen as people of old age by others.

Process of Aging

However, when we look at the process of how a person ages through time, we can view such matters from a different perspective.

The normal process of aging people includes independence, interdependence, dependency, crisis management, and end-of-life.

Let’s further break down what each of these stages means.


In this phase, it is believed that older adults are still capable of doing tasks independently.

Most of them are still able to take care of themselves, do chores, make up for appointments, and travel without the assistance of other people.

From the word itself, a senior citizen is still independent and doesn’t rely on others to support their needs.

Changes in physical health are already seen. However, these are not critical enough to impact their functioning and quality of life.

For women, such physical changes that they may experience include:

  • Dry skin
  • Mood swings
  • Hot flashes
  • Lack of sleep

This phase is sometimes the longest of all stages of aging.

While most older adults last in this phase at the age of 50 or 60 years, others are still independent at an advanced stage, like at the age of 70 or 80 years.


The interdependence stage is when an older adult needs help to perform daily tasks. They could need a caregiver or someone to assist them in their functioning.

Other older people can still do things independently at this phase. But the way they perform is at a slower pace than normal.

However, this is also the phase where older people tend to be stubborn and refuse help. They still want to do things on their own despite knowing that they are less capable.

Older adults at this stage are also delicate.

Hence, it is important that you encourage them to stay physically active to promote a healthy lifestyle and prolong their quality of life.

Setting doctor’s appointments for check-ups is also very helpful. Interpdepent adults may experience worsened health status and physical and emotional decline.


Dependency is the phase where people of old age experience recognizable changes.

They find it difficult to perform simple tasks, and their health deteriorates, leading to poor health conditions.

Hence, they need to depend on other people to perform daily physical and mental activities, like their children or a caregiver.

Most older people in this stage develop chronic diseases and other health issues. This could include heart disease, diabetes, dementia, visual impairments and hearing loss.

This consequently causes them to experience a decline in their quality of life.

Crisis Management and End-of-Life

Both of these stages are somewhat conjoined with each other.

Crisis management can be an interval period before an older person reaches the end of life.

At this phase, the older adult experience ample amounts of health issues. Hence, they need intensive care.

Sometimes, old-aged people are brought to nursing homes for long-term care.

It is also to be expected that the elderly are about to reach the end of life at this point.

Define Elderly

Elderly people age

The word “elderly” refers to people beyond middle age.

With this, people think that you are at the advanced stage of life and you’ve already progressed from middle age.

Some believe that the label “elderly” is used to sympathize with people of old age. But for some, it meant that a person had poor health.

The word “elderly” is only one way to define people of old ages.

Other words are also commonly interchanged with the term elderly to describe people of old age. These words are senior citizen, old, and geriatric.

But what’s the difference between all these terms?

Continue to the following section to learn more!

Senior Citizen

When defining people of older ages, a term that we commonly hear is “senior citizen.”

Such a word refers to a person who has already retired from employment. Unlike other terms, this doesn’t entail negative connotations.

Similar to a senior employee, senior citizens can be regarded as wise and experienced, and their age typically begins at 60 or 65 years old.


The word old refers to individuals who lived a long life compared to the others in their social circle.

Old is also quite a relative term that does not always equate to senior citizens. For example, a 30-year-old person may seem old to a 5-year-old child but is not a senior citizen.

This could only mean that a person is simply older than another, but they’re not old at all.

However, this is sometimes connoted to be negative. Such a term could be related to worthlessness and being vulnerable and obsolete.

It is believed that the term “older adults” is more respectful.


Being referred to as a geriatric would sometimes mean that a person already needs senior care.

Geriatrics is a branch of medicine that deals with elderlies who experience difficulty with the aging process.

Hence, calling a person a geriatric could also connote that they rely on other people to give them proper care.

When Are You Considered Elderly?

Health experts don’t have a common ground on what age is considered elderly.

Typically, a person is defined as elderly if they have reached the age of 65 or older, but it could vary from person to person.

Other people would sometimes refer to individuals between 65 to 75 years old as early elderly. In comparison, those who are over 75 years old are late elderly.

Is 65 Considered Elderly?

A person who has reached the age of 65 is sometimes referred to as an elderly person. Particularly, others would refer to an individual in such stage as early elderly.

In the 1935 Congress, the age of retirement was declared to be 65 years old, given that the average life expectancy of Americans is 61.7 years.

However, studies showed that the average life expectancy of Americans has increased to 86.7 years.

Hence, in this context, 65 might not be considered elderly.

With the additional 20 years in an American’s lifespan, some people believe that 65 could be the new 45 in this period!

Is 70 Considered Elderly?

The changing times also meant a different context when discussing the term “elderly.”

Given the changes in lifespan among Americans, some people claim that 70 (or beyond) is the new 65.

In other cultures or developed countries, they believe that individuals over 70 or 75 are already considered elderly.

Such longevity in life expectancy in recent decades is said to be a result of several factors, such as clean water, health care, sanitation, waste management, and medical advances that provide longer life.

When Does Elderly Start?

Start of being an elderly

With this, it was concluded that in the next years, American men would be considered elderly when they reached the age of 76.

Elderly women, on the other hand, will be those over the age of 80 years.

But for all that, there is still no universally accepted standard that defines old age.

Yet, there could be commonly accepted ways to distinguish this. This includes the chronology, social responsibilities, and physical health.

Negative Age Stereotypes

People of old age are sometimes subject to prejudices.

Such a point in time can be viewed as a stage where a person is lonely and less capable. It also entails physical and mental deterioration.

Others would treat a person of old age as if they were lesser than them, and there are instances where they are denied quality service.

Negative stereotypes based on age impact the decisions made by a senior citizen.

They might refuse medical treatment that ought to take care of their physical and mental health.

They might also refuse to receive assistance or help from other people when performing day-to-day tasks.

Final Thoughts

There is no universally accepted standard to define what an elderly is.

Its definition differs from one period to another. People from developed countries also have different contexts when defining an elderly age.

Some consider the age of 65 as the age of a senior citizen. Yet, others believe that it doesn’t start until the age of 70.

There are also communities where age definition does not solely rely on just a number.In some cases, the roles they play in society dictate what an elderly is.

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