Saturday, March 23, 2013

TIME FOR NEW LABELS FOR THE NEW 'OLD'

My article in The Star
It is always a pleasant surprise whenever I see my article or letter in the newspapers. This one was sent to The Star in October 2012 but it was published in the weekly Seniors column only recently on 20 March.

The Star changed the original title to "The World At Their Feet". Frankly, I don't think it's appropriate. The online version has a different title "When Does Old Age Begin?" Click here to read. Or you can read the original version below. It is actually updated from another article I wrote back in 2011.

When I started my community blog in May 2008, I had come up with several tentative names for the blog. Unfortunately all of them were rejected when I signed up for an account with Blogger. Every single one of the names I keyed in had already been taken. I must have tried at least 20 names. In frustration I gave it one final go with 'Seniorsaloud'. The name had popped into my mind at that last minute. To my surprise, it was available!

Both my daughters didn't like the name at all. They felt that with a name like Seniorsaloud, the blog would attract only old people. Of course, I went on the defensive. What did they mean by 'old'? I was about to turn 60 at the time, and didn't feel at all a day over 40. Neither was I frail, and definitely nowhere close to being senile and decrepit.


The new 'old' - Dr Khairuddin Yusof, 73, enjoys
extreme sports. He spoke at our Seniorsaloud
event on "Retire Healthy" held last July.
Let me ask my readers, does the word 'senior' have a negative connotation? What sort of image comes to mind at the mention of 'senior citizen'? I have good friends who would cringe with horror at being referred to as one, even though they are 60+ and retired. To them, that's as good as sounding the death knell.

The problem with labels is they are generic. 'Old' people are painted with the same brush, and in the same grey colour. But there are so many different shades of grey. Author E.L.James will give you 50! If the 50+ and 60+ are not quite ready to be called old, how would you address them? The 'young old'? That doesn't work either. And are the 70+ the 'old old'? What other terms of reference do we have? The pre-war and post war generations? Equally cumbersome and inadequate.


Dr Yusof's book on active ageing
Quite often the media is guilty of mislabelling. "Elderly man falls victim to snatch thief", says one headline. You read the news report and find that the victim is only 60! I am 64. I can deal with being called a senior citizen as that is what I am. But 'elderly'? Not by a mile. The problem is, young reporters are incapable of making that age distinction. To people in their 20s, 64 is practically ancient.

So until we come up with age appropriate labels, I suppose baby boomers like us will have to forgive the young for addressing us as 'old' and 'elderly'. 

If numbers don't matter, and chronological age is not an accurate indicator of physiological age, what are we left with? How would you like to be referred to? 'Older people' seems to be the least disparaging and most neutral. With people now living much longer, there is a need to come up with new labels for the old (pun intended) that do not smack of ageism, and that is acceptable to all.

'Older people' seems to be the least disparaging and most neutral. With people now living much longer, there is a need to come up with new labels for the old (pun intended) that do not smack of ageism, and that is acceptable to all.


This photo was taken on my mom's 86th birthday in Oct 2012. I shall be 65 in June.
A generation apart but often lumped together as 'the elderly'

If the 60s is the new 40s, you can understand why labels like 'old', 'elderly', 'frail' no longer describe the active, independent and fun-loving baby boomers of today. By the time we reach our 70s, 80s and 90s, we will be re-defining the face of ageing.

There is a world of difference between growing old and growing older. And it's a lot to do with how we look at ageing - positively or negatively, with anticipation or dread. To take it one step further, by changing how we view ourselves, we can change how society look at us.

Adnan Osman, 70, cycled all the way to London for the 2012 Olympics. Inspiring role models like him show us that growing older doesn't have to mean the end of fun and adventure. The world is still there for us to explore. There are new things to learn, and new friends to make. Indeed, growing older can be an exciting new chapter of life.



Postscript: I have always wanted to have a column in the newspaper to write about topics and issues of interest and relevance to senior citizens. If that ever happened, it would be a dream come true for me. Maybe I would call it 'Silver Threads'. It would also be a channel to share information and personal insights on matters that involve this demographic. Our numbers are growing. Other than writing letters to the newspapers, we don't have an avenue to voice our concerns about a host of issues that affect us, including healthcare, cost of living, public transport, affordable housing, re-employment, age-friendly public facilities, retirement planning and end-of-life issues.

It's about time to speak out and be heard.

1 comment:

Aries Star said...

Tq Lily for such an enlightening piece! My wish is for d young ones to read more such articles to help them understand d world of d older generations. I am waiting excitedly for ur "Silver Threads" to take off. Cheers n good day to u !