Paul McCartney wrote the song "When I'm 64" when he was a teenager. It is a love song about how people should help each other as they grow old together. The song is a classic and, as much as McCartney and the rest of the Beatles had the pulse of the world, I think 65 would have been a better choice than 64 for the song's lyrics.

Perhaps McCartney picked 64 as the age to immortalize because four does have a softer poetic sound than five. Reality took a back seat to poetry in this case.

I am approaching my 65th birthday in a few weeks and I had no idea how much of a milestone it is until I started receiving a barrage of mail and phone calls welcoming me to Medicare and asking me to buy insurance products to supplement my Medicare coverage.

Birthdays at the dawn of a new decade always seemed a bit traumatic, especially beginning with 40. I expected that the next biggest traumatic event would be turning 70, but the health insurance industry is making 65 seem like the gateway to old age.

While this insurance thing may be a uniquely American phenomenon because of the way our Medicare system works, there are other issues that crop up as reminders of the move into the elderly category.

I have noticed that over the past few years when the subject of age came up people would not consider 62 or 64 old. They would say, "You are still young," and I would feel validation for the fact that I do not feel old, although my body might sing a different song.


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Lately, however, I have found that there is some degree of socially ingrained stigma about the 65 number. Now, when I tell people I will be turning 65, they react differently and seem quick to make me feel that I am approaching old age.

Not that many years ago people in their 60s were considered ancient, partly because life expectancy was much lower. When Paul McCartney and I were growing up it seemed natural for people in their 60s to get sick and die and no one would say that someone died young if they passed on in their 60s.

Today the definition of old has shifted and the baby boom generation has redefined what it means to be old. Many of us remain physically and mentally active and we have come to understand that, in addition to genetics, lifestyle can determine a lot about how well a person ages.

Even politicians and the Social Security Administration have come to realize that 65 may not be the milestone it once was. The full retirement age has moved up to 66 and that will, no doubt, change over time. Yet, 65 still remains a magic number for retirement and that may have more to do with history than present reality.

Many people work full time well beyond 65 and they consider themselves much too young to retire. Others welcome retirement from a regular job. It has become more common for retirees to start a new life path in their 60s because they do not feel old and they still have a lot of work left to do on this planet.

Paul McCartney is now in his 70s and I am sure he has new insights into the aging process. I wonder if he reflects on his song and evolving concepts of aging, perhaps inspiring a change in lyrics for the baby boom generation.

"When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now

"Will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?

"If I'd been out 'til quarter to three, would you lock the door?

"Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I'm 94?"

Richard Davis is a registered nurse and long-time health care advocate. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net.