At my age …

A friend of mine, in his late 70s, often uses the phrase ‘At my age …  ‘.    He isn’t the only older person who I’ve heard use the phrase.   I find the phrase, uttered by an older person, infuriating.  It seems to me they use it in one of four ways:  as an entitlement, as a right, as an explanation, as an excuse. 

Using the phrase in relation to entitlements is fair enough.  Age does confer entitlements for older people (who are British citizens and have contributed over the years to the National Insurance scheme) in the UK these entitlements include a state pension, a Winter Fuel Payment (if you were born before 1955), the Freedom Pass for travel on public transport and some other things.  These are legal and regulatory entitlements. 

Age related entitlements are not limited to older people, however.  Different ages confer different entitlements, examples include voting age, marriageable age, driver age, consumption of alcohol and tobacco.  In some cases age of someone precludes others from taking some actions – e.g. selling tobacco or alcohol to those under 18 or buying it on their behalf. 

Using the phrase ‘At my age … ‘ in relation to rights is different. The United Nations says: ‘Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.  Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.’

This makes it clear to me that part of my infuriation with the phrase ‘At my age’, is using it to presage a statement about something someone feels they have a right to by virtue of their older age.

For example, though hardly on the scale of significant human rights, my friend used the phrase ‘At my age … ‘ as a right the other day in relation to a pair of green trousers he was just giving to a charity shop.  (He’d worn them 4 times in the 15 years that he’d had them and he clearly remembered each time, which belies the stereotype of memory failing with age).   He was telling me about the most recent time he’d worn them – a couple of weeks ago – to a bowling alley when someone remarked on their ‘green-ness’.  He’d responded to the remark saying ‘At my age I can wear green trousers’.   

It struck me as odd that he linked a right to green trouser wearing to his age.  Anyone of any age has the right to wear green trousers.  I can’t think of any right that is solely applicable to older people.  Human rights are age neutral.  Older age does not confer specific rights that are not the rights of people of other ages.     

As well as being used to in relation to entitlement and rights, I’ve heard older people use the phrase as an explanation e.g. ‘At my age, I can’t be expected to … ’.   This may be true to some extent.  Aging does bring well-researched and documented physical and mental changes.   The World Health Organisation explains, ‘At the biological level, ageing results from the impact of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular change over time. This leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity, a growing risk of disease and ultimately death. These changes are neither linear nor consistent, and they are only loosely associated with a person’s age in years.’

There follows a list of ailments including hearing loss, cataracts and refractive errors, back and neck pain and osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression and dementia.  But none of these is inevitable, and most are manageable. 

But it seems all too easy to hide from opportunities and possibilities because of self-limiting beliefs and/or societal stereotypes on expectations of older people’s capabilities.  Unfortunately, the stereotype is played out all over the place.  I passed a rack of greetings cards the other day.   On one of the rows each of the six different cards was an, intended to be humorous, stereotype of aging.  One read: ‘I’ve finally reached that age where I feel like wonder woman …  I wonder where my phone is, I wonder where my keys are, I wonder where my handbag is.’ 

To counter this there are numerous examples of people who have taken up the challenges of aging.  They are the ones who take the phrase and say ‘at my age and with my limitations I can still have a go’.   Read about the person who took up marathon running aged 89, or this list of 14 people who have managed their aging without giving in to stereotyped expectations.  

Of course, physical and mental limitation are not solely the province of aging.  Many are age independent.  Lack of capacity is not limited to older people, so why use the phrase ‘At my age … ’ in relation to it?    

Sometimes the phrase ‘At my age … ‘ is used as an excuse to avoid doing something, e.g. ‘At my age I can’t be expected to hike 10 miles.’ This actually means – ‘I don’t want to even attempt to hike 10 miles (even though I have the physical capacity to).’   But not wanting to hike 10 miles, is something anyone of any age may object to and excuse themselves from.   Using ‘at my age …’  as an excuse, for things that are discretionary and, assuming capability, a choice, avoids simply saying – ‘that’s not something I want to do’, which would be a more direct and honest statement.

Do younger people use the phrase ‘At my age  … ‘ in a way that implies entitlement, rights, explanations, or excuses?  If not, I wonder at what age the phrase starts to creep in?  Is it a phrase to avoid?  Let me know.


2 thoughts on “At my age …”

  1. I have reached the point that I have to acknowledge that I am ‘aging’. Your list of ailments; ‘including hearing loss, cataracts and refractive errors, back and neck pain and osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression and dementia. But none of these is inevitable, and most are manageable’, have become a challenge in my life. I don’t have all of them, but I have to manage a significant amount of them. There’s the rub, having to manage a number of them at the same time requires time, attention, energy, memory or scheduling, as well as the accompanying support systems, such as relationships with self, doctors, transportation…. all this to say that one has entered a different mode of life.

    There are five different types of modes: linguistic, visual, aural, gestural and spatial. When one recognizes that each of these are changing you have to come to terms with ‘aging’. I know that means different things to different people’s lives but to all, this means change. ‘Change’ or “Transition, I think I like that word better. When I think of Transition I think of progress, accomplishing one stage to progress to a higher one, or different one. I remember the transition from youngster to teenager, then to young adult, then to adult. Each of these were met with joy and anticipations of the accomplishments to be met. These transitions were met happily and seemed natural as well as common. However, the next transitions to ‘older adult’, ‘mature’ had a different aura; being met with both pride and dread. There was still the accomplishment of the age, but then the dread anticipation of becoming a ‘senior’. There is still the discrimination that senior’s are becoming ‘less than’. One has progressed to


  2. .. Whoops I dropped the keyboard. ** One has progressed to being thought of as losing instead of gaining, fast becoming a burden rather than an asset. Being treated more like a child than one who has ‘Wisdom’. Of course there are the exceptions, but they just prove the rule.

    At my age, I demand to be who I define myself as being, however transitory that may be. At my age, I want to be treated as I deem acceptable, thus with respect. I shall make my own definition, just as I did at other stages and expect to be treated thus. I do this with others. Yet, at my age I have also learned to tailor my expectations, and and still working on ‘Accepting’ this world.
    – DJ Lowe.


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