Last month, I saw this headline on Bloomberg News: “America’s Elderly are Twice as Likely to Work Now Than in 1985.” The author of this article explained how people 65 and older are not retiring when they reach full retirement age. What? The author is referring to sixty-five-year-olds as elderly? Wait, I’m over sixty-five (I’m 67), and I’m not elderly! I’m an elder in training.
Perceptions of ‘Elderly’ as Negative
When ‘elderly’ is used to describe older people, the connotations are more often negative than not. Elderly is generally associated with individuals who are diminished or near the end of their life. When I’ve asked groups of people to describe older adults, I have typically heard adjectives like slow, frail, feeble, etc. Talk about stereotyping people based on age! (Last week, I even saw an article that suggested people 55 and over were elderly.)
Surveys and polls of older adults have revealed that the term ‘elderly’ is one of the most offensive ways used to describe older adults. However, about 50% of older adults were comfortable with the use of ‘senior’ to describe people over fifty-five. But when the term ‘senior citizen’ was used, the majority of those polled or surveyed had a negative reaction.
We Must Choose Who We Are And Who We Are Becoming
We are each unique individuals and must decide how we want to be identified. I personally am comfortable with the term, ‘older’ adult or ‘elder’ person. I even like ‘elder in training.’
I am starting to practice elderhood. I think of being an elder as someone who is confident in their insights and years of living. I also think of an elder as someone who has learned to become comfortable in their own skin because elders know they are so much more than the container that houses the spirit and wisdom each of us possesses. In addition, I think of an elder as someone who continues to work for the good of future generations and for the good of our planet. That is the person I want to practice becoming. I now think of myself as an elder in training. It is a good space to occupy for the next quarter of a century or more.
One way I believe all of us can counter assumptions people make about us is to contradict those assumptions by our actions and behaviors. If we choose to stay engaged, to keep learning, to keep investing in others, to stay healthy, and to stay active, we can help change the worn-out narrative about aging. We are not all washed up. We are not finished. Instead, we are just beginning.