Tuesday, April 24, 2012


WILL BOOMERS CHANGE WORDS, PERCEPTIONS OR REALITY? Real changes are in store with the next generation of older adults. The quantifiable stuff is well documented: There will be more of them; they will live longer, and they will benefit from better medicine and healthcare. 

But there’s also the inevitable, yet to be resolved changes: How will Boomers refer to themselves; where and what will they call “home”; will they “retire”; and what about “care”?

With history as a guide, change will be reflected through an amalgam of words, perceptions and reality. (i.e. Individuals are no longer referred to as “handicapped,” but rather as “disabled” or with “developmental differences.”)

But it often starts with words, and several that are on the verge of being replaced, redefined or reinvented include: seniors, home, care, retirement and community.

The word “Seniors” will continue to be replaced by “older adults,” which qualifies rather than labels our more experienced years. In this vein, the more contemporary “longevity” will gradually replace “aging.”

“Home” is a dicey proposition. Aging services providers are a little schizophrenic here. Rest home is an antiquated description along the lines of convalescent, old folks’ home and institution. In marketing, however, home, homey, homelike still resonate with prospective residents. The solution might be to redefine “home” by its essence, such as “comfort.”

“Care” is in jeopardy, too. It is a perfectly good word that may be discarded because its perception conflicts with a generation that prides itself on independence. Maybe care and independence intersect at “inter-dependence.” Or, perhaps reality will simply trump ego on this one.

“Retirement” may be retired and work may be repurposed as “purpose.”  Many Boomers aspire to do something more interesting and less demanding than work. “Encore careers” is a term most often referenced to define a new professional purpose.

“Community” is especially ambiguous. For this word to have real value, more consistent geographic or demographic distinctions need to be assigned. Can aging services providers have communities within walls and naturally occurring retirements communities exists on the outside?

Combine the later three, as in “continuing care retirement community” (and “CCRCs without walls”), and it’s literally obvious why the aging services profession is on the verge of an identity crisis.

Professionals in the field of longevity have the opportunity to either defend or redefine such words. And as a result, positively influence perceptions and, eventually, reality as well. Check out Media Takes: On Aging, co-published by the International Longevity Center and Aging Services of California, for more information.


  1. Your article includes much to consider, but it also rankles me a bit. I've worked in the longevity field for 23 years and as an aging baby boomer, I'm tired of my peers being so afraid of age that they can't say the word. Aging doesn't have to mean anything more than what it means - you've had a few more birthdays. We all call our homes home because it designates where we live. What is different about someplace else that becomes home? But mostly, I'm tired of the media (and yes, I do believe they start these things) deciding that new words are needed because the old ones are passe. After all, senior could also be said to qualify rather than label age just as it does when referring to a high school senior.

    1. Sue -- Thanks for the comments. I completely agree with your perspective on “aging.” My concern about “home” is the negative connotation implied by the use of “old folks home.” I agree it’s a great word and worth rebranding its perception as it relates the older adult communities. As for “seniors,” I do believe it is a label that will not resonate with the next generation of older adults. Thanks. -- Stuart

  2. Is it really necessary to make new words to describe who we are? I am 63 years old. It does not bother me at all to be known as an older person, a senior, or whatever. It is what it is!

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