When does someone become a “senior”? Is it ever OK to call someone “elderly”? If those in a particular age group could decide, what would they want to be called? Here, six people, ages 55 to 84, weigh in on such terminology.
The S Word is OK?
To some, the word senior is just fine. “I don’t mind the term ‘senior’ when referring to my age group,” comments Joseph Dillon. “On my limited income, I could not afford to eat out or get a cup of coffee or fly to visit friends if it were not for the senior discount. I don’t think much about what people call me. I’m just glad to still be here!”
His friend Donald Hanley agrees, “I don’t mind any title if it’s said by a friend or in a friendly tone of voice … and I like seniors or elders best.”
“Maybe my opinion will change, but at this point (I’m 55) I think ‘senior’ is a respectful and appropriate term,” adds David Ferrell. “I could even see using ‘advanced senior’ or something contrived like that for people in their 70s or 80s.”
No It’s Not!
However, not everyone agrees that the term senior is OK. “I don’t like to be called ‘senior’ or even worse, ‘elderly,’ ” says Sandra Giedeman. “It feels like a label being pinned on, with all the assumptions that go along with it. My preference is to call us people, or person, or even better, by our given name.”
Anne Hanley seconds that sentiment, “In this country, we are obsessed with labels. We have babies, preschoolers, school age, adolescents and adults. We have baby boomers, generation X, 20-somethings, and on and on. I’m not sure why we have to keep separating out ages and stages. I have been in the adult category for some time now and am quite happy with that title for me. However, I must admit that I do take advantage of ‘specials’ that are offered every now and then to the 55-plus category. Maybe we could be referred to as the 55-plus group?”
When a category must be defined, Sandra suggests a similar solution to Anne’s: “How about … ‘discounts for people over 50.’ … I actually prefer the word ‘older’ to refer to my group. It’s realistic, but not condescending, like ‘elderly.’ ”
More Terms to Avoid
“By using the word elderly, you make me feel, well, old!” says Vicky Schartz. “I am technically in that category, but I don’t like to be reminded of it. TV and print reporters seem to be fond of the word because I hear and see it used frequently. State the person’s age, if necessary, and that’s all we need to know. A lot of people over 60 aren’t elderly, infirm or senile!”
Anne adds, “I do not want to be referred to as elderly or old or infirm (none of which I feel to be true). In the business world, becoming a senior executive is something to strive for (they pay you well, and you are highly respected!), so what’s the difference in the aging world? Does senior have such a positive connotation? I think not.”
While opinions vary, there seems to be a general consensus: Discounts are great, but using terms to categorize people by age is tricky business.