The numbers don’t mean a thing

“Who should get flu shots?” asked the interviewer.
And the expert looked earnestly at the television camera to answer. “Well, to begin with, the elderly should get shots,” he said. “Anyone over the age of 65.”
And that’s when I stopped listening. Now, I have nothing against flu shots. Without question they’re useful, especially to certain at-risk populations. But I don’t like being called names. Not even if the name is “elderly.”
Actually, especially if the name is elderly. And I’d like to know how we ever got started with all this negativity around the wonderful gift of long life. With all this labelling and categorizing.
You know what elderly means. Grey. Worn. Aged. Past one’s prime. Hoary. Grizzled. Enfeebled. Decrepit. Debilitated. Inactive. Deficient. Golden-ager. Old-timer. Oldster. Senior citizen. Prune.
Those simply aren’t labels you attach to the important people of society. And I don’t want them attached to me.
The other thing I don’t like about this “elderly” business is the word’s use as a collective noun. “The elderly.” As though everyone past middle age fell into one group with common identifiable characteristics.
You could never take all the people in the 40-year span from ages 25 to 65 and lump them into one group called “the grown-up.” By the same token, you can never take the 40-year span from ages 65 to 105 and lump everyone into one category called “the elderly.”
The truth is, some people are old at 30 and others are young at 70. It makes me think of a thoughtful woman who last summer, when discussing aging, said, “The numbers don’t mean a thing.”
And if you’re referring to chronological age, they certainly don’t.
When Walter Stack of California was 85, he swam laps every day; and after a complete physical, Stack’s doctor told him that although his chronological age might be 85, his biological age was 58.
A man like that deserves respect and opportunity.
We’ve made great strides over the past decades in respecting differences and recognizing that everyone needs an opportunity in life. And for the most part, we don’t believe in labelling minorities.
We pride ourselves on being equal opportunity employers and allowing every person to achieve his or her potential. Except when it comes to “old people,” that is.
I don’t know what it is that causes our honestly held principles to give way when it comes to aging. Maybe our own fear is so great that we can’t be rational. Because the truth is, the numbers don’t mean a thing–and society doesn’t have the right to tell us they do.
A thriving, sharp 70-year-old should be able to find employment as quickly as a 30-year-old. And a sickly 50-year-old should be advised to get a flu shot.
It isn’t the number of years we’ve been on this planet that makes a difference. It’s a multitude of other things. How much we exercise. How much we read. The state of our health. Our mental attitude. What opportunities we’ve been given, and what opportunities we’ve taken advantage of.
People were meant to thrive and achieve their full potential at every age. And society has no right to deprive you of that privilege by labelling you as “elderly.” So don’t let them do it. It’s the best gift you can give to the people who will follow you.
They’re going to need that privilege, too.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist.

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