General Interest

Don’t call us ‘old’ people

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Don’t call us ‘old’ people
Don’t call us ‘old’ people

What Should We Call Baby Boomers? What terms should we use to discuss this age group without giving offense?

For the most part, longevity and lifestyles have changed and language hasn’t kept up. If you know someone who actually saw the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” chances are they’re 65 or more. How should we call them?

Baby boomers are not “old” at 60 or “elderly” at 70. Most of them live an active life and are relatively healthy. Perhaps we need a new terminology for aging, something that reflects the changing reality of what growing older is like in this country. But what’s the alternative, and for doctors who treat patients who fit this description, and for academics who study this demographic?

From an economic perspective, the over-50 crowd generates some $4.6 trillion in economic activity in products and services. Therefore, any company that wants to woo this senior set can’t risk alienating them with words that carry negative connotations, especially when most will eventually need some help with housing, transportation and health care.

Calling a Baby Boomer “Senior citizen” is totally out, as is “mature adult,” according to most market research. “Elderly” has been deemed utterly cringe-worthy by boomers, though referring to someone as an “elder” carries a measure of respect and wisdom gained from a long life.

A poll by the Marist College Institute found that 45 year olds consider those who are 61 as “old or middle-aged.” Yet people in their 70s or 80s tend to think of 61 as “young.”  Do you become a senior at 50 when you qualify for AARP discounts? Or in your 60s when you begin collecting Social Security?

A few “aging experts” have tried calling people young old (65 to 74), old old (75-84) and oldest old (85+). Age-based categories at this stage of life often aren’t helpful, she said, because there is so much variability in how people age.

The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society announced recently that it will now require writers to use “older adults” for people 65 and older. If they want to talk about a smaller group, they can list the ages. That puts it in line with the American Medical Association’s position.

We need a word or words to describe this period, and we just don’t have them yet. If you’re over 65, what would you like your age group to be called? Or maybe labeling is always flawed and there’s no way to get around it.

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