Thursday, February 10, 2011

Language and Terms for People who are Past Middle Age

There are many terms used for people who are in the 60-ish plus age category.  Those who move from that undefined "middle age" into the next age category don't want to be labeled with a negative term that makes them sound "old".  Sometimes I wonder when did "old" become a bad word?  The majority of today's older people are remaining quite active and longevity is challenging our beliefs about the ways in which we refer to our older population. Words such as elderly, seniors and senior citizens often conjure up negative connotations.  Political correctness, and acceptable language is helping to eradicate ageism and help people in their later years (and others) look at their stage of life in a positive light.  Here's what I've found in my research in terms of language:

Thumbs down to:
Seniors (now considered pass√© to the Baby Boomers) 
Senior Citizens
Elderly (associated with the term geriatric or those who live with senility) 

Thumbs up to:
Older adults
Third age (the age of personal fulfillment termed by the late Peter Laslett) 
Active agers
Elders (Very different from elderly.  Adopted from the First Nations community in Canada.  Elders are revered for their wisdom and life experience and the title Elder is a compliment in First Nations communities) 
Active Older Adults
Baby Boomers or Boomers (those born between the years 1946-1964)
Retirees (if in fact they are retired)
A person aged _______ (fill in the blank with their age with no other label)
People aged _______ (fill in the bland with an age-range with no other label)

Pensioners (mainly a U.K. term)
Older people
Older person

If you're really struggling :)

Old = Chronologically gifted or experientially advanced
Old person = Gerontologically advanced

Just as we would call someone a child, a teenager, or an adult, I think it's most acceptable to use the term "older adult" when speaking about those who are in the 60-ish plus age category.  Middle age can span many years, and that magical time when one becomes an older adult is quite individual and undefined.  In Canada, one receives the "Old Age" Pension when they are 65.  Is this the magical age then?  Not world-wide that's for sure.  There is a more definitive breakdown from there - the young-old, the old-old, very old and the oldest old. 

Remember the old saying, "To Me, Old Age is Always 15 Years Older Than I Am", Bernard M. Baruch.

Whatever term you decide to use is okay as long as you do it with good intentions in mind.  It is never okay to refer to older adults in a negative manner as this perpetuates ageism and puts our views of aging in a negative light.

Age well,
Angela Gentile


  1. Baby Boomers may feel "seniors" refers to somebody else - their parents, for example. Boomer has a youthful ring to it, both because of the wide range of ages in that catagory and because they grew up with it. So historically, and in their heads, it has always referred to young people. I have not encountered any resistance to the term "senior" on my Dating Senior Men blog -- maybe because it is read by people both over and under 65, and because the men in my Dating Gallery are decidedly senior. :O) Thanks for the post. It's thought provoking, and I love the Baruch quote.

  2. Sienna Jae - I really appreciate your take on this. There is a real shift going on in terms of language. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and expertise.
    ~ Angela Gentile

  3. Wow, good to know! As an architect specializing in assisted living facilities and Alzheimer units, I use the term "senior" all the time! Is it inappropriate for me to use this in my industry? For example, I am part of a consulting firm called Pivot Senior Living Experts... Should we reconsider the name of our company?

    Here is more information on what we do:

    As you can see, most of our terminology is focused around the "seniors."

  4. Greg - I have taken a look at your website, and I think the term "Seniors" is fine because that's what most people are used to and you are using it as a very broad term/title. However, to be more inclusive, I think "Older Adults" would fit quite nicely, also "specialized housing" vs. "seniors housing" may be another way to look at it. Keep up the good work and I wish you well in your business.
    ~ Angela Gentile


What do you think? Any comments?