June 12th, 2013

Describing Old Age-The Traps And An Idea List

From Char's doll collection

From Char’s doll collection

By Sharla Rae

When writing, we have to describe all kinds of people/characters. I’d venture to say that older adults or seniors are one of the most difficult people groups to describe.

Why?

Because what you see is not always what you get. Okay, this might be true with any age group, but it’s doubly so with the older generation.  There’s a world of experience and living under their belts and their faces don’t always tell the story.

Also, yesteryear’s elderly are now a cliché when compared to the modern seniors.

My grandparents had false teeth they’d take out at night and dunk in a glass of water on their bedside tables every night.
Current grandmothers, if they have the funds, opt for veneers or dental implants that permanently screw into the jawbone.

Both of my grandmothers were old timey one-room schoolteachers who never worked outside the home once they married.
Modern grandmothers prefer to stay active and often that means working until a ripe retirement age – maybe longer.

Fashion comes and goes but my grandmothers were never seen in anything but modest, below-the-knee dresses or slacks no matter the fashion. And if you had suggested an exercise program to her, they’d claim to got plenty of exercise cleaning house. 
Modern seniors exercise more than today’s youth and have bodies fit enough to wear the latest fashion, even if they choose to go for comfort instead.

 On the list below you’ll see physical descriptions as well as actions and doings of old people. Some phrases are unflattering, some humorous, some are clichés but all serve as an idea springboard.

Terms For Growing Older — All Clichés

 Advancing years
Autumn of life
Declining years
Long in the tooth
Old as Methuselah
Old as the hills
Old fogey
Old fossil
Older than dirt
One foot in the grave
Twilight years
Winter of life

Word And Phrase Descriptions

 A little too ripe to be job hunting
Age-spotted pate
An Anachronism – as in old fashion, something old that is out of place
Ancient bones creaked
Ankles swelled with gout
Arthritic
Banging his cane demandingly
Battered shell of his youth
Bending forward to keep his balance
Beyond the first blush of youth
Bingo night is her social life
Blue-rinsed hair topped with a pillbox hat
Bushy salt and pepper brows
Cabinet of medicine, hot water bottles and Ben Gay
Cackles of the old biddy
Calcified grin
Called the shop girls girlie
Cemented in his ways
Changes his underwear after a sneeze
Cheated the undertaker once again
Codger, geezer, graybeard,
Contrary, and snappish
Crabbed with age
Crone, witch, hag
Crotchety old man with his
Damn young whippersnapper
Dapper old chap
Doddering along the park lane
Double-dumpling figure, bent with age
Dowager Queen
Dowdy old maid
Dried up
Drooping eyelids he could barely see out of
Dunked his false teeth into a water glass
Eyes bright with age
Face lined with experience and wisdom
Face was road map to his glorious past
Faded blue eyes
Faded version of his son
Feeble-minded, forgetful
Feisty antique of a lady
Forgot where she put her dentures
Frail old woman slowly shuffled
Fuddy-duddy
Fusty and set in her ways
Getting some action, he ate his fiber today
Gnarled hands knitting
Gramps zones out once in a while
Grandma and grandpa-might used a derogatory for anyone old
Gray dandelion hair
Growing love comfortable shoes and clothes
Grumped at the noisy children
Grunted and creaked with every move
Grunts when he sits, then sighs with relief only to grunt and rise
Hair a crown of faded glory
Hair billowed cobwebs in the draft
His get-a-long got up and went
Hoary, whiskered old fellow
Humped over and leaning on her cane
In his declining years
In his dotage
Infernal loud music
Infirmities aside, she was in good shape
Jowls flapped when he talked
Laugh like crackling paper
Laugh lines bracketing twinkling eyes
Long nose hair
Looked 45 but liver spots hands gave her away
Loved the decadent indolence of retirement
Matriarch who rules the roost
Matron aunt
Ol’ fart
Old and decrepit
Old duffer is deaf
Once a rock and roller, now he rocks only the chair
Patriarch of the family
Prune juice a staple of her diet
Rheumy eyes
Rocked and rocked and stared within
Room full of crooked backs, colorless hair and time-faded eyes
Ruminating on when she was young
Sagging skin
Sat on the tenement steps and watched the world go by
Senile and helpless
She’s a classic
Shriveled by half
Skin as thin and white as parchment
Skin like used tea leaves
Skin of leather
Skin stretched over knobby bones
Smelled of Chantilly Lace and moth balls
Sparse eyebrows with a chaotic growth pattern.
Stale, moldy and far-sighted
Stooped and bent frame
Strains to hear
Stroke left her expressions scary/endearing
Tottering and unsteady
Transparent blue-veined skin
Trapped behind the walls of age
Tufts of hair grow out of his ears
Turkey neck
Wattle neck
Wise old eyes widened with a twinkle
Withered skin
Wizened and shrunken like a fading rose
Wrinkled skin costumed a youthful heart
Young mind trapped in an old body
Youth was waning

 Definitions

centenarian — person 100 years old or older

glaucoma — hardening of eyeball resulting in poor vision or blindness; associated with                             aging

leucoma — disease of the eye in which the cornea becomes white and opaque

noachian — old enough to date back to Noah

octogenarian — person in their 80’s

preadamite — dates back to before Adam

quinquagenarian — person in their 50’s

septuagenarian — person in their 70’s

sexagenarian — person in their 60’s

Dementia — loss of cognitive ability

Alzheimer’s disease — type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.

 Links:

Playing Dr. Frankinstein – 5 Questions To Ask Your Characters Before You Begin

Keep Characters True To Themselves

If you’ve read my list blogs before, you know I love descriptions in Poems.

Poems about old age

Humorous poems on old age

Sharla RaeSharla has published three historical romance novels: SONG OF THE WILLOWLOVE AND FORTUNE, and SILVER CARESS. SONG OF THE WILLOW, her first solo effort, was nominated by “Romantic Times Magazine” for best first historical. Her current work, HOW TO FELL A TIMBERMAN is in the submission process.

When she’s not writing and researching ways to bedevil her book characters, Sharla enjoys collecting authentically costumed dolls from all over the world, traveling (to seek more dolls!), and reading tons of books. You can find Sharla here at Writers In The Storm or on Twitter at @SharlaWrites.

31 comments to Describing Old Age-The Traps And An Idea List

  • What an incredible resource! Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  • Great post, Sharla! It really made me think about how old changes with the audience. In my recent, her heroine is 49, the hero early fifties. Nowadays, this generation would be one step from the old folks home. Not true today, as you pointed out. The challenge for me in writing romance about this age group was getting readers over forty pulled into the story from a romantic angle. When a reader in her late thirties told me that she “fell” for the hero, I figured I’d done my job :-). Will save your phrase descriptions…a great list.

    • Sharon, this is so true! I’m often surprised at how fit and good looking people 40 and over really are. My grandmothers “expected” to look older and less fit and were content to accept their condition. Today’s seniors don’t accept it and it shows. They educate themselves on the best ways to stay fit mentally and physically.

  • Sharla, I’d venture to say that the new “chick-lit” is “geezer-lit” and that Boomers are more likely to describe their parents and grandparents using the cliched descriptionns above. It has been easy and fun for me since I grew up with multiple generations … people who were born during the turn of the 19th Century and cousins who fought in Korea. The concept of old didn’t hit me until mom moved into an independent living apartment and I asked her why she wanted to live with a bunch of old people 🙂

    But how do Gen-X kids see Boomer Granny’s? That would be my kids who have kids who are plugged into eletronic gadgets 24/7. My kids who are looking at me the way I looked at my mother and thinking … Hey, who are you and what have you done with my mom?

    I love, love your extraordinary “lists” and this one has got to be one of the best.

    • Thanks. I laughed at when you mentioned how you’re kids look at you. Mine are often the same way. There is no way my mother would tweet, blog, etc. 🙂 She never went to an exercise class in her life. Sometimes my kids look at me like — but mom aren’t you too old to do that? Ha! I think they kind of got over that though went I went zip lining over the rain forest. 🙂 I participate in activities that my mother would not have thought of doing even when she was in her 20s!

  • Good point about how the elderly aren’t so “old” and out of the mainstream any more. Great info and list of phrases! Thanks!

  • Bookmarking this—thanks!

  • Absolutely love this. Thanks so much! Now I have to get this old gal to the gym, put on my wig, and then go to work:)

  • Another great list, Sharla! Today’s “old folks” are texting and on FB and Twitter. I still remember my grandmother yelling into the telephone because she couldn’t figure out how someone in a different country could hear her without a little extra help. 🙂

  • Thought-provoking list. As one of the old geezers, I’m constantly annoyed when people (and TV) portray 60-year-olds as “old.” On the other hand, the 60-year-olds in my novel set in 1913 are old. Gout was a real problem. And their teeth didn’t hold up. But even then, some lived into their 90s. As I say – thought provoking.

    • Unfortunately, few of the problems of old age have gone away. I think the difference is better medicines, education about benefits of staying fit, etc. And yes, if you writing about years ago, all those infirmities were a reality to deal with. Lets face it, if a woman in the early 1900s or 1800s dressed for exercise and then performed it the way we currently do, she would have been considered a loose woman!

      • Better healthcare, exercise, staying out of the sun. We can be young forever! Or think we are. It’s true, Sharla, if we showed up in 1900 wearing what we do now, I imagine we’d have been committed to an asylum, That is what they did to women who didn’t conform.

  • Hey! I resemble all those remarks! lol

  • Great blog, Sharla, and oh so true. I do all that my kids 19 and 14, do as far as tweet, FB, blog, text and all that. Plus I’m in love with my iPhone. My son jokes about me being “old” and then says he’s just kidding. However when my daughter and I were talking about me getting the tattoo I’ve always wanted he asked me why I’d want to do something like that when I’m so “up in years”. I asked him why he would think that way. I mean, was I ready to pick out my gravestone? Is it too late to do some things? In my mind, it’s NEVER too late to do anything. He quickly shut up.

    • One thing I’ve learned Pat, is that kids today think they are indestructible. They think in terms of the here and now. They can do anything but their parents as far as they are concerned are beyond having any concept or even wanting an understanding of the latest and greatest. They seem to think we are too old to enjoy anything new. Ha! My son has said things like, mom, you don’t have to worry about that, or you have no need of that or why would you want to even do that mom? In which case, I pretty much say the say things you did. 🙂

  • Theses are wonderful terms and words. Tweeted.

  • Great post! I actually feel much healthier than I did over a decade ago, because now that my children are grown, I can focus on myself instead of burning myself out to meet their needs. I workout every day with hand weights an exercise bike, and dance exercises, as well as take the dog out twice a day. I feel better and have lost more than a few pounds I’d put on in my thirties and forties. I can’t imagine my mother having done the type of workouts I do at my age.

    • Exactly Susan. And I’m with you. I put on pounds like crazy when the kids were in junior high and high school. I look and feel so much better now. It’s like I said in the blog, todays seniors just don’t fit into the old mold of . . . Old. 🙂

  • Great post. Very thought provoking. I know I’m sixty and can run rings around some of the young ones I work with, although I will admit that at my age “Pulling an all-nighter means not having to get up to go to the bathroom.”
    Dory

  • Yvette Carol

    Thanks, Sharla, brilliant as always. You’re so right about the changes in these times too.

  • OK, I’m gonna confess it, I saw “sexagenarian” as “sexy vegetarian.” That shall be forever imprinted on my brain from now on. 🙂