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THIS Is Really When Old Age Begins

When does old age start? At age 68, according to one survey. But perceptions of the onset of old age vary widely according to the respondent's age.
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A 95-year-old Finnish woman may have set the record for the world's oldest woman to complete a bungee jump, according to Daily Mail. Magit Tall, who walks with the assistance of a cane, took a nearly 500-foot plunge, with the aid of a tandem jumper. She said that she wanted to make the jump before she died. Tall's feat is impressive for a person of any age, let alone a nonagenarian.

Let's take a look at what it means to age in a society that has mixed views on aging.

When Does Old Age Start?

Ageism Hurts

Princeton University researchers have explored the graying of the population as well as intergenerational tensions in the United States. In seeking explanations for ageism, or age discrimination, the researchers examined prescriptive ageist prejudices, which are beliefs about how older adults differ from others. For example, when older adults do not conform to these beliefs, they are punished by people who discriminate against them.

Two theories could explain this phenomenon. First, negative expectations can become "self-fulfilling prophecies." In other words, when an older person believes that older people are vital and vibrant, he or she is more apt to take care of him -- or herself. In contrast, when an older person believes that aging equates to sickness and infirmity, he or she may subconsciously become sick and infirm.

Second, genetics may play a role in people's perceptions of aging. For example, people who witnessed their parents age gracefully may have inherited good genes and also developed healthy attitudes and habits.

Baby Boomers Could Redefine What It Means to Grow Old

According to an NBC News report, whether ageism will become better or worse as more Boomers hit old age is unclear. To highlight that aging doesn't mean crippling old age, the report shared the story of a 74-year-old Duke University professor who has written several books on aging. The professor said, "One can say unequivocally that older people are getting smarter, richer and healthier as time goes on."

The professor is living proof that aging doesn't mean sitting in a rocking chair on a porch; he skydives, whitewater rafts, cycles, and gets tattoos. "What makes me mad is how aging, in our language and culture, is equated with deterioration and impairment. I don't know how we're going to root that out, except by making people more aware of it," he said.

60 Is the New 40

The frontiers of aging are not all gloom and doom. After all, 60 is the new 40! Take a look at older female role models: plucky actress, director, producer, and screenwriter Diane Keaton; age-defying celebrity, activist, former fitness guru, and W Magazine cover star, at age 77, Jane Fonda; actress and activist Susan Sarandon; and iconic international beauty Sophia Loren.

According to a columnist for The Seattle Times, Liz Taylor, "most of us age accidentally." Taylor recommends that we embrace aging. She also thinks we should drop euphemisms for aging, such as "old," "seniors," "elders," and "older." She adds that Boomers, many of whom are now seniors, do not respond well to these terms.

Shattering Old Stereotypes to Court the Mature Market

Today's so-called "mature market" flouts conventional stereotypes. After all, the image of a frail, grumpy elder is passé. Just take a look at pharmaceutical advertisements aimed at the mature market. While the ads focus on common ailments related to aging, such as arthritis, the people shown in the ads are vital, active, and engaged.

Some companies are reformulating their marketing strategies to attract older consumers. In Ameriprise Financial's "Dreams Don't Retire" commercial, the late iconic actor Dennis Hopper dispels conventional attitudes toward retirement. Hopper says, "Your generation is definitely not headed for Bingo night." The ad then talks about the Ameriprise Dream Book that offers a financial strategy to make retirement dreams come true.

Other companies are using cognitive age, or subjective age, and not chronological age in the development of their marketing strategies. Consider the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). If you've turned 50, the AARP has probably already sent you a direct mail package aimed at getting you to join. The organization tries to appeal to a wide audience, which presents an interesting challenge: communication messages intended for 50-somethings won't resonate with 80-somethings and vice versa. So the AARP developed ads that feature older adults at various life stages and that explain how the AARP's lifestyle-oriented information and services fit into their lives.

To avoid ageism in marketing, some companies address consumer lifestyles. Do you remember the Taco Bell Super Bowl commercial, "Viva Young"? In this fun ad, a pack of rebellious elders sneaks out of their retirement home to experience a night out on the town. They play pranks, go clubbing, make out, get tattooed, and, of course, stop for Taco Bell. The ad demonstrates that you're never too old to stir things up.

Mark Twain said, "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." Anyone for bungee jumping?

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