Wednesday, January 3, 2018

HOW SHOULD WE REFER TO OLDER ADULTS?

Would older adults accept being addressed as 'perennials'? 

When I started this blog in May 2008, I had several names in mind for the blog. Unfortunately all of them were already taken. I must have tried at least 20 names in total, with the same result each time - 'not available'. 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 accepted.

Both my daughters didn't like the name at all. They probably felt that with a name like SeniorsAloud, the blog would interest 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.

Let me ask my readers, does the word 'senior' have a negative connotation? What sort of image springs 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 and hues of grey. If the 50+ and 60+ are not quite ready to be called old, how then would you address them? The 'young old'? That doesn't work either. And are the 70+ the 'old old'? These are terms used by researchers in social sciences and gerontology. What other terms of reference do we have? The pre-war and post war generations? Baby Boomers? Equally cumbersome and inadequate. (Photo: My cousins - no way would anyone in their right mind call them 'elderly'! Henry is about the coolest dad I know, and Siew Kin is one fabulously gorgeous mom, inside out. Both are in their early 60s at the time of writing.)

People are living longer so new age categories are needed. I am now considered 'middle-aged'.
Quite often the media is guilty of mislabeling. "Elderly man victim of snatch thief", says one headline. You read the news report and find that the victim was aged 63. I am turning 70 soon. I can deal with being called a senior citizen as that is what I am. But 'elderly'? Not by a mile. But young reporters are incapable of making that age distinction. To someone in their 20s, 63 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'.

I'm glad I stuck with the name "Seniorsaloud" for this blog. It has garnered a readership that is steadily growing. It has caught the attention of certain policy-makers on ageing issues in Singapore and Malaysia. It has been mentioned in the local media on several occasions. Some of the articles have been published in reputable magazines. Some years back, I received an email from a program producer at CNN asking for my views on a seniors-related topic. That was a real morale booster!

My SeniorsAloud card which I refer to as my 'passion card', rather than my business or name card.

All those hours of writing and researching are finally paying off in terms of recognition. Now we are hoping some big corporations would step in and sponsor a Seniorsaloud event. That would be taking Seniorsaloud to the next level where it can harness the expertise and experience of retirees for projects that would benefit the community of senior citizens. Seniorsaloud has no shortage of ideas to achieve this objective, and we welcome collaborations with organisations and companies to promote active, healthy living for seniors.

Here's what Prof Laura Carstensen of Stanford University's Centre on Longevity says about the term 'perennials' for older people.


Click HERE to read the full article (Straits Times 2 Jan, 2018)

"Perennials make clear that we are still here, blossoming again and again. It also suggests a new model of life in which people engage and take breaks, making new starts repeatedly. Perennials aren't guaranteed to blossom year after year, but given proper conditions, good soil and nutrients, they can go on for decades."

I personally like 'perennials'.  It has a youthful, forever-spring feel to it. But I am not too sure if the word will gain wide acceptance. What do readers think?

(Postscript: The above is an updated version of an article first posted in April 2011. An edited version was subsequently published in the Star.)

1 comment:

Pak Idrus said...

Just Orang tua lah!