Thursday, December 26, 2019

HERE'S WHY THE 60+ DO NOT LIKE TO BE REFERRED TO AS 'THE ELDERLY'


The UN refers to people aged 60 and above as Older Persons. World Health Organisation uses the term 'older people'. Are these terms of reference preferable to 'senior citizens' or 'the elderly'? What is your opinion?

When I started this blog in May 2008, I had dozens of names in mind for the blog. Unfortunately all of them were already taken. In frustration I gave it one final attempt with 'SeniorsAloud'. The name had popped into my mind at that last minute. To my surprise, it was available and accepted.

I call this my 'passion card', rather than my business card or name card.
Both my daughters didn't like the name at all. They probably felt that with a name like SeniorsAloud, the blog would appeal only to 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. I am 71 now, still far from decrepit although admittedly my knees are starting to creak.

Let me ask my readers, do the words 'senior citizen' conjure up an image of a frail, wrinkly person bent over a walking stick or stuck in a wheelchair, suffering from hearing loss, poor vision and a host of chronic diseases like Alzheimer's? I have good friends who would cringe with horror at being referred to as a senior citizen, even though they are 60+ and retired. To them, that's as good as sounding the death knell!

Do you agree with these categories by age?
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 60+ are not quite ready to be called old, how then would you address them? In academic research old age can be divided into three stages: young old (55–65 years of age), middle old (66–85), and old old (85 and older). But that's chronological age, not biological age. I know of people who at 75 can outrun a 35 year old!

What other terms of reference do we have? The pre-war and post-war generations? Equally cumbersome and inadequate. Baby boomers? Well, we are long past our baby-producing age. How about 'perennials'? That is more fitting for trees and vegetation. And 'evergreens'? That sounds desperate, like trying too hard to remain young.
Some of our SeniorsAloud members at a photo shoot for The Star.
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 only 63 years of age. Obviously the reporter had not heard that 60 is the new 40, and that people aged between 60 and 69 are called sexagenarians because they are still sexy and far from being over the hill and ready to be put out to pasture! But young reporters are incapable of making that age distinction. To those in their 20s, 63 is practically ancient, ready to be mummified and put on display in the museum.

So until we come up with more appropriate labels, I suppose we will have to forgive the young for addressing us as 'old' or 'elderly'. It could be worse, like describing us as cranky and smelling of mothballs and dead fish!


Which goes to show that it is an uphill battle to change the negative perception most people have of senior citizens. But change we must, and change must begin with us. We need to think positively of our age and of ourselves, because if we don't, we cannot expect others to view senior citizens as still active, healthy, productive, capable, wise, experienced, fun-loving, adventurous and bold. All the positives. In other words, we need to change the narrative of ageing and make 60+ truly the 'golden years' to look forward to.

For our Facebook followers, you will have noticed our postings of some really amazing and inspiring seniors who have defied the old image of ageing. From our own SeniorsAloud community, we have scores of members who look great, and are both physically and mentally in top form. Some of them are featured in our 2020 calendar and in the Star Lifestyle supplement dated 13 Dec 2019.

SeniorsAloud team - our ages range from 60 to 75. We aim to change public perception of ageing.
Postscript:The original article (above with minor revision) was written in 2011. Almost nine years have passed and I am glad to report that SeniorsAloud has grown in numbers and in outreach. We have gained a solid reputation for our noteworthy community initiatives.

What is my wish for the new year 2020? Well, 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. There is growing interest in the field of ageing.

Other than writing letters to the newspapers, we make use of social media platforms e.g. facebook, to make our voices heard on 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. At the same time, SeniorsAloud continues to promote active living as we believe that is the most effective way to enjoy longevity in good health.


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