65 is considered “senior” but not always elderly, as elderly often describes people who have significant mobility issues, move feebly, or have significant cognition changes, as well. Folks are able to elect Medicare coverage in the United States at age 65 (or before if they have a disability). 

As we will discuss below you could be 80 years old and not be “elderly,” so it really depends on the person. Let’s dive into the official definition (if there is such a thing), below!

Key Takeaways

  • The US Census Bureau defines elderly as individuals aged 65 years and older, but perceptions of what constitutes “elderly” can vary greatly depending on various factors.
  • Health plays a significant role in the concept of being elderly, as aging increases susceptibility to chronic conditions.
  • Life expectancy and attitude towards aging impact the perception of being elderly, with average life expectancy in the US being around 77 years.
  • Staying active, leveraging technology, and maintaining social connections can influence the perception of being elderly and contribute to overall well-being.
  • Embracing age diversity and fostering intergenerational connections can promote positive attitudes towards aging and challenge ageist stereotypes.

Table of Contents

    The Official Definition

    To start, let’s look at the official definition of “elderly.” According to the US Census Bureau, individuals aged 65 years and older are considered elderly in the United States (1). This age threshold is widely used by government agencies and researchers, and it serves as a benchmark for planning programs and services for older adults. However, as we’ll see below, there’s more to the story than just a number.

    It’s All About Perception

    While the US Census Bureau’s definition might give us a starting point, we all know that age is just a number, right? The perception of what constitutes “elderly” can vary greatly depending on cultural, social, and personal factors. In fact, a study published in The Gerontologist found that people’s perceptions of what constitutes “old age” can range from 60 to 90 years (2). So, it’s clear that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question.

    How Age Affects Our Health

    One important factor to consider when discussing the concept of being elderly is health. As we age, our bodies undergo various changes, and we become more susceptible to certain health conditions. According to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the prevalence of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis, increases with age (3). This means that some people might experience health issues that are typically associated with being elderly at a younger age, while others might remain relatively healthy well into their 70s or 80s.

    The Role of Life Expectancy

    Life expectancy plays a significant role in shaping our understanding of what it means to be elderly. In the United States, the average life expectancy is around 77 years (4). This means that reaching the age of 65 is no longer seen as a milestone that signifies the beginning of “old age.” Instead, many people are now living well beyond this age and enjoying active, fulfilling lives. So, the idea of being elderly at 65 might seem outdated to some.

    The Power of Attitude

    Do you know what really makes a difference in how we perceive our age and the concept of being elderly? Our attitude! Research published in the Journal of Aging Studies suggests that having a positive attitude towards aging can actually have beneficial effects on our physical and mental health (5). So, instead of focusing on a specific number or worrying about being considered elderly, why not embrace the idea that age is just a number, and it’s our attitude that truly matters?


    So, when are you considered elderly in the US? While the official definition puts the threshold at 65 years of age, it’s clear that there’s a lot more to consider when thinking about this question. The perception of being elderly is influenced by cultural, social, and personal factors, as well as our health, life expectancy, and attitude towards aging. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that age is just a number, and what really matters is how we approach life and maintain our well-being. Stay positive, my friends, and age gracefully

    The Importance of Staying Active

    Another key factor in our perception of being elderly is our level of physical activity. Staying active as we age is crucial for maintaining our overall health and well-being. A study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity found that engaging in regular physical activity can help improve our cardiovascular health, cognitive function, and emotional well-being (6). So, it’s not just about the number of candles on our birthday cake – it’s about how active and engaged we are in life.

    The Influence of Technology

    The role of technology in our lives can also impact how we perceive the concept of being elderly. Advances in medicine and assistive technologies have made it possible for older adults to remain independent and engaged in their communities longer than ever before. Research in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences highlights how technology can help reduce feelings of isolation and improve the quality of life for older adults (7). This means that, thanks to technology, being considered elderly doesn’t necessarily equate to being dependent or disconnected from society.

    The Value of Social Connections

    Maintaining strong social connections is another factor that can influence our perception of being elderly. As we age, it’s essential to nurture our relationships with friends and family, as well as to engage in social activities that bring us joy and a sense of belonging. According to a study in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, older adults with strong social connections tend to have better cognitive function and emotional well-being (8). So, surrounding ourselves with people who love and support us can make a huge difference in how we perceive and experience aging.

    Embracing Age Diversity

    In today’s society, it’s essential to recognize and appreciate the value of age diversity. People of all ages have unique perspectives, experiences, and contributions to offer. By embracing age diversity, we can challenge ageist stereotypes and promote a more inclusive, respectful, and understanding culture. A study in the journal Ageing & Society found that fostering intergenerational connections can help break down age-related barriers and promote positive attitudes towards aging (9). So, let’s celebrate our differences and learn from one another, no matter our age!


    In summary, the question of when you’re considered elderly in the US doesn’t have a simple answer. While the official definition may be 65 years old, many factors – such as health, life expectancy, attitude, physical activity, technology, social connections, and age diversity – can influence our perception of what it means to be elderly. Instead of focusing on a specific age, let’s embrace a more holistic approach to aging that values the unique experiences and contributions of people at all stages of life. Stay curious, engaged, and connected, and age will be just a number!


    1. United States Census Bureau. (n.d.). Older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2018/cb18-41-population-projections.html
    2. Löckenhoff, C. E., De Fruyt, F., Terracciano, A., McCrae, R. R., De Bolle, M., Costa, P. T., … & Yik, M. (2009). Perceptions of aging across 26 cultures and their culture-level associates. The Gerontologist, 49(6), 753-767.
    3. Salive, M. E. (2013). Multimorbidity in older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 61(5), 786-794.
    4. National Center for Health Statistics. (2021). Health, United States, 2020.
    1. Wurm, S., Tesch-Römer, C., & Tomasik, M. J. (2007). Longitudinal findings on aging-related cognitions, control beliefs, and health in later life. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 62B(3), P156-P164.
    2. Nelson, M. E., Rejeski, W. J., Blair, S. N., Duncan, P. W., Judge, J. O., King, A. C., … & Castaneda-Sceppa, C. (2007). Physical activity and public health in older adults: Recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 39(8), 1435-1445.
    3. Cotten, S. R., Anderson, W. A., & McCullough, B. M. (2013). Impact of internet use on loneliness and contact with others among older adults: A cross-sectional analysis. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 68B(2), 173-180.
    4. Green, A. F., Rebok, G., & Lyketsos, C. G. (2008). Influence of social network characteristics on cognition and functional status with aging. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 63B(6), P348-P354.
    5. Drury, L., Hutchison, P., & Abrams, D. (2016). Direct and extended intergenerational contact and young people’s attitudes towards older adults. British Journal of Social Psychology, 55(3), 522-543.