I saw my barber, Ray, yesterday, and he asked me if I wanted the senior discount. "Ray," I said, "How old do you think I am?" He was polite. "I'm not sure, but if you want the senior discount, you need to ask for it." At a mere 54 years, I insisted on paying the full charge.
I'm a youngster when it comes to longevity, but my barber's misjudgment and my mildly deflated ego caused me to reconsider the markers many of us use to decide whether or not we're old. For Ray, appearance was everything. And to look at me—the not-so-subtle signs of balding, the gray beard, and the errant hairs protruding from my ears and nose—told him I was a card-carrying senior citizen.
What really concerns me, however, isn't my appearance, but the internal processes that tell me I'm old. The signs and symptoms of memory decay are hitting the radar screen of middle-agers at a higher frequency than ever before. Maybe it's because the 21st century expects us to remember more and do it faster, like the stream of computer passcodes or personal identification numbers, which keep growing in length and complexity. Maybe it's because, in an aging population, the media have discovered Alzheimer's with a vengeance, and we begin fearing its onset in every forgotten name or word.
According to the most recent 2010 Alzheimer's Disease Fact and Figures, an estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's, including 200,000 persons under the age of 65. About 14 percent of Americans aged…