While it may seem easy to point to the silver-haired people in society and label them senior citizens, the actual age at which someone can be considered a senior is much more difficult to pinpoint. Just as everyone turns gray at a different point in life, so too does each individual experience the life changes equated with senior citizenship at a different moment in their chronological timeline. What age is a senior citizen? The answer will vary based on the application, geographical area and even the opinion of those involved.
Legal definition of a senior citizen
In order to determine the age of a senior citizen, one might look at what the law defines as a senior. This might be done by looking at the minimum qualification age for senior care programs. By this definition, it might be anywhere from 60-70. In the United States, it might include those who are eligible for Social Security based on age, for Medicare, or other such government programs for the elderly. Other countries often have similar programs, but the age of qualification may vary. Subsidized housing especially for seniors may have an age requirement of 50-55, while others might have a health requirement such as needing supervision or being wheelchair-bound.
Definition of senior citizens in medicine
Medically, the age of senior citizens depends more on physical health than on chronological age. Someone might be considered a senior citizen when they begin to experience age-related conditions such as presbyopia, arthritis, Alzheimer's, or nerve disorders linked to age. Women may have passed through perimenopause. While there are instances of these conditions in individuals in their 30s and 40s, they are far more common in people who are 60 or 70.
Generally, a medical evaluation of age will include a big-picture approach that takes the individual's overall ability and quality of life into account. For instance, a given individual may be on oxygen, have advanced osteoporosis and severely declined cognitive function despite being only 62. On the same token, an 85-year-old may still live an active lifestyle and be totally self-sufficient. Medically, the first individual would be considered more senior than the second, despite the disparity in chronological age.
Senior citizens as defined by organizations
There are a number of organizations aimed at senior citizens, and one might consider those who are of the minimum age for membership as a senior citizen. For instance, the nationally-recognized organization AARP requires that individuals be 50 or older for membership, which qualifies them for a number of senior citizens' benefits. Various corporations have different qualifications for retirement with a full pension, which might also be defined as the age one becomes a senior citizen.
Life stage of senior citizens
Probably the most common definition for a senior citizen is derived from the overall life stage of the individual in question. A senior citizen's children will all be grown, and they may have grandchildren. Their mortgages might be paid off. Estate planning may be more of a concern than wealth accumulation as the senior citizen sees life moving toward its end. Lifestyles lead toward the slower-paced, but freer style that comes from no longer being bound by kids' school schedules or employers' time clocks. Finally, a senior citizen may be more able to focus on their own happiness and continued health as their children no longer need them for everyday necessities, careers have ended and there is more time to relax, and focus on oneself and potential contributions to the rest of society.