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It’s 2014…let’s toss the word “senior”

It’s 2014…let’s toss the word “senior”

It all used to be so simple. A senior citizen was someone over the age of 60 (maybe younger) and retired. A life filled with puttering, grandchildren, and gray hair.

Today, as we live during a period of revolutionary change to the concept and reality of aging, who is a “senior”? If we don’t even know what the word means, maybe it’s time to toss the word “senior.”

MaryAnne and I spend most of our time exploring aging issues. If we’re going to get rid of the word senior, then what word do we use in its place? Maybe it doesn’t need to be replaced?

Thinking back, I can’t think of the last time I used this word. When working with clients I certainly don’t refer to them as a “senior” because the word doesn’t mean anything about an individual and her life.

For example, calling someone a “senior” means nothing and assumes everything. Alternatively, the same person is retired, a heart attack survivor, a grandmother, a widow, loves to cook, loves Downton Abbey, and traveled the world, but now spends most of her time at home. For this woman, calling her a “senior”  expresses none of her individual characteristics.

Labeling a person builds a brick wall between the surface image they present and who they actually are as a person. A label immediately limits the conversation, assumes facts which are untrue, and can stigmatize.

If we abandon the word “senior”, what alternatives exist?

There’s always referring to someone using the generational terms, like Baby Boomer, Generation X, and so. The problem is the difficulty of knowing which years apply to which terms. Here’s one take on the labels for the different generations:

1900-1924 – G.I. Generation

1925-1945 – Silent Generation

1946-1964 – Baby Boom

1965-1979 – Generation X

1980-2000 – Millennials or Generation Y

2000/2001-Present – New Silent Generation or Generation Z

(http://geography.about.com/od/populationgeography/qt/generations.htm)

But who can remember which range is for which label? I know plenty of people born before 1946 and wouldn’t consider many of them “silent”… they all have opinions about everything!

Think about it in the context of the famous “senior citizen discount.” This article was inspired by an email from Hancock Fabrics for a “Senior Citizen Discount” starting at age 55! Yesterday, I received a flyer from Joann Fabrics for a “Senior Citizen Discount” starting at age 60! Which is it? How can they coexist? I don’t know of any 55 year old who calls herself a “senior citizen.”

We see marketers take the Baby Boomer label and try to make it fit for everyone. But Baby Boomer is just another label; the individuals within this generation, like all generations, cannot be summed up with two words.

Other alternatives exist: third age, third act, third phase, all meant to reflect the time period of 50 between 75. This only works if someone lives until 100 and a life can be divided into four phases.

Roughly 10,000 Americans turn 65 each day and will continue to do so through 2029. This so-called “silver tsunami”, another label which falls short and I find distasteful, means communities face an ongoing dialogue about modern aging. The more conversations about aging, individuality, and shared characteristics, our communities will learn, adapt, and provide accurate responses.

I vote for asking individuals what they want to be called – let someone choose what they want to be called, let’s stop forcing one label to fit all.

While we’re on the topic, maybe the old senior citizen discount should be rebranded the 60+ discount. Isn’t that the underlying purpose anyways?