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Friday, March 11, 2016

What’s in a Name?

What to call seniors and elderly people?

While pundits wrestle with what to call those who are getting older— seniors, elders, super adults?—a poll showed that most persons who are aging don’t really care.

In the last few years, the media, in particular, have been looking for a new term for “old people.” Elders? Senior citizens? The problem, most agree, is that older adults—that’s us—don’t think of themselves as old. Marketers avoid using any reference to age, instead pitching a new lifestyle. Elderhostel got rid of “elder” and became Road Scholar. Those who know the code can usually figure out the references.

When referring to older adults, Ina Jaffe, the NPR correspondent who’s been a journalist for more than 65 years, has had to figure out the most useful phrase to use in her reports. “Since the early 20th century, we’ve added at least 30 years to the average life expectancy,” she said, “and the language just hasn’t caught up with that.”

One problem is that one term or word, like “seniors,” is used to encapsulate everyone from 65 to 100 or more, which doesn’t accurately reflect the changing lives of everyone in that age group. Another problem is that what we think of as old or aging is being revised upward, as people live longer. Maybe the most difficult problem in this society is that any connotation of “getting up there” is viewed in negative terms.

When Next Avenue polled its readers about a new term for seniors, the votes were somewhat evenly divided between “older adult,” “senior,” “elder” and “super adult.” The term “Gener-Ager” garnered only minimal support. The winner: “I don’t think we need a term at all.”

Maybe we just need to stop using labels or start thinking about aging in positive terms.


“Should We Say ‘Super Adult’ Instead of ‘Senior Citizen’?” Feb. 10, 2016, Next Avenue

What’s in a Name? is a featured article in the March 2016 Senior Spirit newsletter.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors