People should not be called old until they are seriously frail, dependent and approaching death, one of the UK’s leading social scientists has told Hay festival.
Sarah Harper, a gerontologist who is director of the Oxford Institute of Ageing, proposed a different approach to the language we use about ageing, suggesting that people in their 60s and possibly 70s and 80s should still be considered active adults.
“We should not even be calling people old until they reach what [the historian Peter] Laslett calls the fourth age; that time where we will become frail and enfeebled,” Harper said. “Old age should be the fourth age. Everything else should be active adulthood.”
She said there was a danger of neglecting what true old age should be: a time of withdrawal and peace and reflection. It can be a difficult time but “it is a time we need to claim as a special time because we are finite beings … we will die”.
I rather doubt that we wrinklies give two hoots as to the label used to describe us. But a little more care and consideration on the part of younger members of society would not go amiss.