Mind who you call Elderly, Senior or an Oldie!

I’ll let you into a secret ….. I don’t colour my hair and I’m pretty ‘white’ now!

When we moved to Joburg it really annoyed me as all the street vendors called me Ouma! Ouma! – Shock horror! – I ask you! I wasn’t even 50 then so I wasn’t impressed.
Now a few years on… well quite a few years on, I am officially a grandmother but still a bit touchy about what people call me and it seems I’m not alone.

Who, when they get past the age of 60, wants to be called “elderly”? For you 20-something hot shots, this will be you, too, some day.

Dian Sparling, an actively working 71-year-old midwife, was horrified when a story about her carried a title online: “For Elderly Midwife, Delivering Babies Never Gets Old.”

Ina Jaffe, the reporter who did the story as part of a series on Americans who increasingly forego retirement to stay in the workforce, was equally dismayed. She purposefully avoided calling Sparling “elderly” in her story, but had nothing to do with the headline.

It caused quite a furore but as Jaffe added: What do you call people today past 60 or 70, or even 80 or 90? Even more relevant as people remain active and energetic due to improved health and increasing longevity. My 82-year-old mother, for example, likes to rub it in that she can still touch her toes without bending her knees, while I can’t … mind you I’ve never been able to!

So “elderly” is taboo! and although Boomers in general are often referred to as the silver tsunami it’s a group name only in my opinion.

Paula Span a professor of journalism, suggested an unobjectionable term would be “older adult.” but what is wrong with “old people,” it-is-what-it-is. Nope they say very few people go for that one.

So even though we do everything in our power to live longer most people don’t want to be called old, even when they indisputably are chronologically old.

Ann Fishman, president of Generational Targeted Marketing said of people 65 years and older: “For heavens’ sake, don’t call them anything.”

Joanne Handy, the CEO of Leading Age California, said: “Elderly” is definitely out people seem to prefer three terms: “older adults,” another is “seniors” and “elders.” which is seen as more respectful than elderly, but as with everything, it rubs some people the wrong way.
But hold on in lots of cultures, the term “elders” is a sign of respect.

It’s so subjective and too stressful to try an sort out on my own 🙂 We all want to live longer, but none of us wants to be old, and we certainly don’t want to be called old! So what shall I call myself?
What do you want to be called?

  • older adult,
  • elderly,
  • a senior,
  • an elder,
  • an older person,
  • a senior citizen,
  • an older person

I think I’ll settle for “older person” well for today anyway…

Go well till the next time and smile nicely when called anything … but “elderly!!”



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