Respecting Older Americans Through Words Used to Refer to Them

Lately I have been reading about the names we use and the reaction some people have to those names.

I have always been respectful of everyone with whom I come in contact, whether they are personal friends, family members, co-workers, healthcare professionals, clients, patients, service personnel, or those about whom I write on our website.

Never in my wildest dreams would I think that my words might offend others and that has never been or will ever be my intention. Unfortunately, I seem to have been offending at least one person who has contacted me and perhaps others who have not.

As a result, I am on a quest to find the right word or words with which to refer to those for whom our family caregivers so lovingly care and about whom I write in an effort to help those family caregivers.

This isn’t a matter of political correctness but of respect for others and their feelings.

Roots of Senior Care Corner

Senior Care Corner strives to provide information, insights, resources and support to family caregivers. Why do we do this? Because almost eighteen years ago we left our life to help care for our family members as they aged. We left everything behind and moved our family to be nearer to those we loved and felt were in need of more assistance.

At that time, there was little information and no real support for what we were trying to do. We kind of faced each new thing head on gathering as much information as we could. I fortunately was, and have been my entire career, a healthcare professional and caregiver. So some things came a little easier since I was an “insider” in the health arena and could better travel the maze of the system.

We continue to be caregivers and have, in retrospect, been caring for someone – family, friend, or the community since the beginning and will continue to do so as that is what we feel is our calling.

Senior Care Corner’s intended audience is family caregivers who walk in our shoes and deal with the same hurdles we have dealt with in the past. We want to help make their journey a little less harried and more fulfilling than ours was at the time.

Term to Use for Those Who Are Older

When taking into consideration who our blog is directed toward, the question is what name is best to use.

If you are a family caregiver to an older loved one, what term do they think is most applicable and respectful of them?

Thinking this is a great topic for a survey? We’re right there with you – – and would love to get your response!

Names for Older Americans in the News

Recently NPR reported on terms that offend some in a story called ‘Silver Tsunami’ And Other Terms That Can Irk The Over-65 Set. Using some of these terms was described as a minefield by the author. Ina Jaffe reported that there aren’t a lot of widely acceptable terms. The language seems to be the issue. No one wants to get old or be treated as old or especially be treated condescendingly.

But what terms can be used safely without offending anyone? Is it even possible to come up with a term that doesn’t offend anyone?

It seems like the over 65 generation feels a level of discomfort with the terms. The baby boomer doesn’t want to be reminded of the fact that they are not considered young but instead want to focus on living.

No one wants to feel patronized, according to the reporter.

The overwhelming comments I have read to this story are in favor of the term elder due to the respect most cultures place on the elders in their community. Comments posted to the story wonder if calling the group by a label in itself is wrong or just a means of addressing such as sir or ma’am which is also seen by some as calling in to question age. Or is anyone’s age just a simple statement of fact some ask.

One comment from a man who stated his age as 76: “Call me what you want. Just don’t call me late for nap time.” Thank goodness, a sense of humor erupted! How about this rejoinder? “The only time I like the term ‘senior’ is when it is followed by the word ‘discount’.” Glad to see some don’t take things too seriously.

Survey Says…

It is true that words carry power and can evoke particular emotions. A survey done by and reported in the Chicago Tribune found that 71% of the over 1,000 respondents aged 50-69 were comfortable with the term baby boomer but only 49% approved of senior. Of course, most baby boomers have not yet reached the age of 65.

It seems that words that were acceptable even a generation ago are now falling out of favor, including nursing home, senior living and retirement community. The respondents went on to state that the word “facility” is dehumanizing.

No one wants to alienate anyone, particularly an entire age group. But how is one to know which word is offensive? In all the people I have spoken with about this issue, the research I reviewed and articles with comments that I have read, there is no one term on which everyone can agree to use without offense. Oh my…

Treating People with Respect

Naturally, when addressing an individual person, we want to respectfully use their name. When it is not appropriate, I and all of us will not tag a person or group with a ‘label’.

But what will I do as a writer to refer to my audience of family caregivers when referring to those for whom they care? I personally prefer elder (not elderly) as a sign of respect but also don’t really mind senior. That is the title of my company, after all, and it describes it well I believe.

When it comes to referring to others, though, what matters most is not what we think but what they prefer.

We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions because we have to use some term when referring to older adults.

Did you respond to the survey? If not, we hope you will!

6 thoughts on “Respecting Older Americans Through Words Used to Refer to Them”

  1. Silvers because most are proudly “silvered” Silver denotes value and strength. Silver can be trusted not to rust or melt away.

    Thanks for asking.

  2. I appreciate your sensitivity. I think the difficult thing is finding terms acceptable today. I think individual respect and kindness is what is the most important.

    • We totally agree! Thanks moondustwriter for your input. Look out for the poll results coming soon!

  3. Trying to separate names for a group is difficult if there have been times that the group has faced ridicule for who they are. Our country does not respect our elders as well as some other countries. For years we have been putting them away to watch tv, play bingo, and rock in rocking chairs..,.somewhere where we would not have to worry about caring for them and their physical needs…just a visit now and then.
    I love the stories of respect and love shown to the elders of the family. I love the reaction of youngsters to those who are being shown this respect directly in front of the children…and, yes, sometimes we need to lessen our wants in order to take care of those who took such good care of us!
    Call us elders; call us GRAND parents or Great Grandparents. Call us “our” nanny, or nunu, or gamma.
    Do not separate us with names or empty space. Do not tuck us away. and…it is all right for some things to be on hold, a vacation, a new house or car, etc. so there are the funds to help the one who took such good care of us once upon a time. And…don’t forget, our presence with the children or grandchildren is an overlooked pleasure for everyone. Thank you

    • Thanks Carolyn for your comments!
      It seems important for us all to respect everyone with whom we have contact but especially our elders!
      Things have changed and continue to change in our society and we need to remember the contributions of the generation before our own in order to understand the importance of their life’s work to our current life! Respect is due!

      Look for our poll results coming soon!

Comments are closed.