Color & Control:

Talking about aging ‘the right way’

As the saying goes, you’re only as old as you feel… but there are various labels and terms that come with aging that are passé and some that are au courant. Here are a few of the more common phases and buzzwords that our editorial team have pulled together to help you navigate…

Senior citizens, oldies, retirees, elderly, grannies…. Be it what it may. Ask five different people when someone is considered “old” and you’ll get a different answer. One thing’s for sure, their definition likely won’t be the same as it was in our grandparents’ time. And, it’ll likely be spiked with more youthful thinking and even a touch of attitude. There’ll also be suggestions that certain terms are condescending or derogatory in some circles.  

So, just what do we need to understand about aging and inclusive terminology and which descriptors are acceptable these days.

Old: The term itself is subjective, a teenager is old to a toddler for example, and can come off as quite rude. Older, on the other hand, is actually a more acceptable term as it implies aging without a negative connotation.

Geriatric: While a valid branch of medicine, the term doesn’t have a lot of positive uses outside of the medical community. Usually used in replacement of calling someone senile or incapable. 

Senior: Generally seen as a positive term and is the preferred way to address most older adult—but be careful, not all older adults consider themselves a senior so always ask.

Senior Citizen: While this term typically refers to someone of retiree age, 60-65 in western societies like Canada, it’s often used to patronize aging adults. Be aware of the context of using the term when you do.

Elderly: This often has negative connotations leaning towards frail or in poor health. Most aging adults don’t appreciate this term and many experts actually consider the term outdated and even “ageist.” 

Pensioner: Used to refer/describe an aging adult for living on social assistance or retirement funds.

2SLGBTQ+: 2-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and additional orientations or identities, like pansexual and asexual. 

BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, and people of colour.

Intersectionality: Considering everything and anything that can marginalize people—gender, race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc

Ableism: Used to describe the attitude that persons without disabilities are more capable.

Ageist: Discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age.  

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