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What Do “Old” People Want to Be Called? Those Over 55 Weigh In

With people living longer, just how old is “old” these days? And more importantly, what do you call the people who have reached that age? You may be as young as you feel, but that won’t stop people from labeling your age group. And when it comes to age, believe me, a rose by any other name does not smell as sweet!

Not old yet
While “senior” is one of the most common monikers these days, even that descriptor fails to win the approval of some adults over 65. And to many in the over-55 crowd, “senior” just sounds, well, old. “I don’t want to be called old-anything,” laughs one stylishly young-at-heart 70-year-old. And she’s not alone. The main reason? A lot of people over 55 or 65, just plain don’t feel old.

Some might think it’s the baby boomer generation that’s causing this name revolution. After all, many boomers still look over their shoulders when someone younger calls them sir or ma’am. Even as they age, boomers don’t want to be labeled or treated any differently. They certainly don’t want to live in a “retirement” home like the ones their grandparents may have lived in. Instead of a single sterile room, their idea of senior housing is a spacious apartment with fine dining, activities, and happy hour. Nothing old about that!

senior?
But the perception of age may be more closely connected to a person’s health and outlook on life than the number of years they’ve been on earth. When my dad was a spry 90-year-old, he still pulled out his senior discount card at his favorite fast food restaurant. I’m pretty sure they knew he was over 55. And when a friend later came with me to visit him in assisted living, she said she enjoyed visiting the “old people” there. It seriously never crossed her mind that at 84, she was actually older than many of the residents.

My point? For the most part, once you’re past your mid-twenties or so, no one wants to be considered “older.” But the media, the service industry, healthcare workers, marketers, and others still need a way to address the over-55 demographic. So what name is the most politically correct? The most appealing? Or, the least objectionable?

To some, the idea of being old is offensive, frightening, something to avoid at all costs. Others defiantly embrace the idea of getting old. Maureen Connors, a well-known retail consultant, came up with the word “perennials” when she referred to her older consumers. It does bring to mind a vision of new life – and even longevity. Perennials are strong and resilient — not old and withering on the vine. But to some older folks, “perennial” sounds too “new age.” Too concocted, too contrived.

Perennial

At the other end of the spectrum is Charles de Vilmorin, co-founder and CEO of Linked Senior, who launched the “Old People are Cool” initiative to fight the negative perception of aging. The organization’s online store sells everything from t-shirts to mugs, with profits going to the Alzheimer’s Association. Their goal is to spread awareness of ageism and the senior care industry. And to encourage seniors to embrace their age.

Some of the most popular terms for the older generation are seniors, (but not senior citizens), retirees, older people, and older adults. Pensioners is just okay. And elders is a term embraced by those that see it as a sign of respect. Over-55, over-65, and of course, the ever-popular baby boomers (for the younger old people) are phrases that are widely accepted. Unless you’re referring to a frail 99-year-old, please, oh please, do not use elderly!  

The good news is that many older adults have a sense of humor about the subject. I asked one 75-year-old friend what he wanted to be called and he joked, “I just don’t want to be called late for dinner!” He may be serious. In fact, that might just be the secret. Offer a “senior discount,” early bird special, boomer bash — or even old fogey festival — and you’re sure to draw a crowd no matter what name you use!

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And finally, using social media, I asked a lively 91-year-old what he wanted to be called, and he got right to the heart of the matter with this response: “Still alive!”

Now, that’s the spirit!

old people

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  • Sue Sveum

    About :

    After helping her own parents as they aged, Sue began working with other seniors, and now shares what she learned in her blogs for seniors and their families. She currently writes about seniors and healthcare for several websites but her past includes diverse topics ranging from dogs to weddings to ghosts. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and Golden retriever, Wrigley.

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