What's a five-letter word for aging?

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Karen Lyman, Ph.D., Correspondent

Arthur Winston recently celebrated both his 100th birthday and his first day of retirement, after 76 years of working for Los Angeles transit agencies.What words might we use to describe Mr. Winston, at this point in his life? Retiree? Barely. Senior? Most are decades his junior. Centenarian? This term accounts for his chronological age, but not his place in the lives of his co-workers or his new life in the 21st century.

Language is powerful. The words we use to describe older adults convey the status and opportunities for people in later life, the role expectations of others, and our own sense of identity.

For the first time in human history, we live with the reality of a dramatic increase in life expectancy for a large percentage of the population. Four- and five-generation families are becoming common. Twenty-year-olds work beside 80-100-year-olds like Mr. Winston, as more people choose not to retire when they live decades beyond retirement age.

To make sense of these changes, a number of researchers and writers have tried to capture the new opportunities, expectations and self-identities of later life in phrases such as: The Third Age, The Creative Age, Reinventing Retirement, The Second Half, and Super Seniors.

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