It is important to integrate the belief that seniors or older adults are not “the other” or “them” – they are us. How this segment of the population is portrayed is directly influenced by the words that we use to describe it. After all, older adults are rapidly becoming the largest market segment in society and will possess the most purchasing power of any demographic group according to a task force at the International Longevity Center in New York. So it’s important that we “watch our language” when advertising products and services, not to mention just talking to older folks.
We still suffer from the use of condescending language when it comes to the aging process. Using terms like “the old” or “the elderly”, homogenizes a widely varied and diverse segment of the population. And language can fan fear with terms that sound apocalyptic like “gray tsunami”, “demographic time bomb” and “age quake”. Euphemisms like “golden age”, “umpteen years young”, “you haven’t changed” or “you don’t look it” are also ways to devalue people who have simply grown older, as we all hope to do. Another term that I think is offensive is calling someone who is older “eccentric”. What does that mean? And then there is the cosmetic industry using terms for anti-aging products like “advanced night repair” as if something is broken, or “mature skin corrector” as if aging is a mistake.
Take it from an “old” English major. We have a lot of work to do!