Karen Shapiro, PharmD, BCPS


December 29, 2004


When medical practitioners, prescription drug labeling, or advertising classify age groups (eg, neonates, infants, pediatrics, geriatrics, etc.), what are the general ages that are usually implied?

Response from Karen Shapiro, PharmD, BCPS

Pediatrics deals with the care of infants and children and geriatrics deals with the care of the elderly.

A neonate refers to a baby from birth to 4 weeks. Another word for "neonate" is "newborn." "Infant" is a more formal term for a baby, the youngest category of child. A child is no longer considered an infant when able to walk and talk, which, in most cases, is at about 1 year. The term "child" covers the age range from birth to puberty. Adolescence is the period from puberty to maturity.

I bet that many of us are smiling at these terms while thinking of people who never quite reached maturity, or of our own adolescents who sometimes fit into the "child" category. Nonetheless, these definitions are standard. There is some confusion concerning the term "elderly" and how this is defined.

In the United States, the Census Bureau defines "older" people as 55+ years and "elderly" at 65+.[1] Yet a survey conducted by the National Council on Aging in 2002 found that 42% of those 65+ thought of themselves as middle-aged or young.[2] Formal definitions of aging are based on an external event and are not necessarily related to physical aging.

In the United States, life expectancy at age 85 has increased 24% since 1960 and is projected to increase another 44% by 2040.[3] Although hip fractures and dementia are increasing as the population ages, many of the "older-elderly" and "elderly-elderly" (terms used to refer to those 80 or 85 years and older) remain in overall good health and define themselves quite differently.


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