The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum by Professor Michael Myers Editor's Note: The Elder Law Forum is a public service of the University of South Dakota School of Law, an extension of the SENIOR LEGAL HOTLINE available at no cost to persons 60 and older at 605-677-6343 and during regular business hours. The Elder Law Forum delivers information and educational material by radio, a weekly newspaper column, and Law School research papers placed on the USD School of Law Web site. Professor Myers teaches Elder Law at the School of Law.

"I'm Almost 80 . . .

Be 79 Next Month"

Have you noticed? There are two segments during life's journey when people are inclined to say they are older than they actually are:

When they are quite young. Example: "How old are you Mary?" Answer: "I'm going on seven."

When they are quite old. Example: "How old are you George?" Answer: "I'm almost 80 ? be 79 next month."

With respect to the "going on seven" six-year-old, the desire to be older is understandable. She will be bigger, better able to fend off the assaults of an older brother, and she may have been promised a two-wheel bike for her birthday. Another year of aging holds much promise for a girl entering the second grade.

But what about the "almost 80" 78-year-old? Why is he inclined to stretch his age? He will be a year closer to the grave. He may have to sell his Harley. He will be less able to fend off a mugger in a darkened parking lot. And he may have to undergo that hip surgery he has been avoiding.

A discussion with a USD Senior Legal Helpline caller � a 67-year-old more inclined to understate rather than overstate her age � identified four reasons why older persons exaggerate their chronological age:

First, it is a boastful statement; an expression of pride in having outlived one's colleagues; an affirmation of survivorship.

Second, it is intended to elicit a compliment regarding the person's youthful appearance, such as: "George, you haven't changed a bit in 20 years. I sure hope I look as good as you do when I'm your age!"

Third, it is a statement of revenge; getting even by outliving one's enemies, and getting even with the company by forcing it to pay and pay and pay from its pension plan.

Fourth, it is a statement of hope, a way of speaking to God through other people. After all, if you are "pushing 90" at the age of 86, and you list the tasks yet to be done on this earth, would not an understanding God grant sufficient time for their completion?

Life is a rapid journey. Attend a gathering of seniors and look around. You will see disbelief and puzzlement. "Where has the time gone?" they ask each other, with the repetition of a mantra. "How old are you George?"

"Almost 80; I turn 79 next month."

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