By Holley Kelley, M.S., C.P.G., FT
SENIORS—44.7 million individuals age 65 and older, according to the 2013 Administration on Aging statistics. This positions seniors garnering 14.1 percent of the United States population—and by 2040 that percentage will leap to exceed 1/5 of society to an astounding 21.7 percent. By the year 2060 the senior populous will more than double. These figures come as no surprise when you reflect on the aggregate of baby boomers, coupled with advancements in wellness, health, and medical technology.
I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about how to fittingly refer to this exceedingly fundamental group of aging adults. It’s a legitimate issue to deliberate. We have words for every phase of human existence that immediately depicts their life stage—newborn, infant, toddler, pre-teen, teen, young adult, middle-aged—the list goes on with familiar labels that immediately cast an applicable mental image of the human life phase.
Somehow, we skip right over the popular, all-encompassing “senior” label of age 65-plus into septuagenarian, defining ages seventy through seventy-nine—but who can even pronounce the word, much less know its meaning? Octogenarian captures ages eighty to eighty-nine, and rolls quietly into nonagenarian, ages ninety through ninety-nine, which springboards into centenarians, capturing everyone over age one-hundred—the distinctive older group that attains pinnacle notoriety and reverence in the hierarchy of aging progression.
I recently read an interview on NPR about this indisputable issue of identifying an “approved” term to label so called “older people.” What do they want to be called? Equally as important, how should they be characterized? As a gerontologist and a brand-spanking new member of AARP, and—especially as an individual headed swiftly in the juncture of this direction—I am inspired to battle this conundrum head on, right here, right now, with you!
So let’s assess what terms are currently out there—good, bad, and indifferent. We’ll save “good” for last because therein lies the enigma we’re attempting to resolutely tackle. For the generally-viewed “bad,” we have: old, aged, geriatric, old-fogie, old-timer, oldster, old people, pensioner, over-the-hill, back-side of life, silver-haired, elderly, crone, q-tip, biddy, and geezer—need I continue? It’s excruciating painful! Exploring “indifferent,” there’s mature, elder, retiree, patriarch, older, golden-ager, and more.
Now for the “good.” While there really isn’t any I—or mainstream society—find perfectly fitting, non-offensive, non-patronizing, un-belittling, undervalued and misjudged, it seems the most popular go-to term is “senior.” To get technical, “senior” is defined as somebody who is older than somebody else, or someone of a more advanced age. So it seems my 19-year old son is theoretically a “senior” to his younger sister.
The term senior is ambiguous and when applied to older individuals is incongruous and unfitting. Furthermore, instead of creating an image of reverence and vitality, it tends to illustrate impressions that ultimately trivialize their essential role in society.
The origination of this prevalent view can be tethered to many sources, including mass media at large who often depict seniors in roles of weak, incapable, and inconsequential members of society. Can a young person ever have fallen and not been able to have gotten up? Or is that only reserved for the frail and elderly? Is incontinence and erectile dysfunction a problem only facing the aged? Do only the elderly want user-friendly cellular phones and universally designed living spaces?
With the media continually depicting aging Americans as fragile, vulnerable members of our culture, it is so easily explicable why certain segments of collective society have established subjective views towards seniors. It is with great discredit because the older generation is the nucleus hub of societal wisdom. They are in fact strong, inspiring, and robust, and without whom, there is no “us!” Yet the term “senior” implies more of a futile descent towards finality than an ascending and unfettered evolutionary progression. In and of itself the term “senior” implies aged, dependent, and disadvantaged. No wonder this unbecoming term is continually contested by the very group to which it pertains.
Speaking of mass media brings me to the next discourse. We “brand” everything today—from individuals for notoriety, to products for their quality guarantees, geographic areas to attract tourism, and companies for their namesake—marketing has become all about the branding. So I have to wonder if put to the task how we could “brand” our amazing aging populous?
Branding is all about establishing a generalized concept held about a person or thing which aims to stake an organic claim to an image, feeling, word, idea, or even action regarding association with the brand. What if we re-branded seniors? Redefined them—gave them a theoretical, conceptual makeover and replaced the previous references with new feelings, beliefs, and attitudes? We’re not pulling anything over on anybody—we’re just getting the facts out there about this magnificent group of people—and letting the truth speak for itself in the form of genuine actualities!
Inspired with this notion, I felt compelled to create some new literary references. After all, aging isn’t a bad thing; it’s an incredible honor and a gift of life—and a place we’ll all end up—if we’re lucky enough! I can honestly say without a doubt, I want to attain a “ripe old age.” So, why do we struggle so much to define this attained numerical and developmental life benchmark?
How about honoring this group for what they really are with a novel namesake? Insighters, sparklers, wisdomers, perspicacious adults, experienced era, grand souls, bosses, chiefs, sagaciousers, evolutioners, fruitioners, longevitors—I could continue, but I’ve already found my pick of the litter-ary assemblage. And why can’t we make up a new word? Like so many incorporations of modern society, Google wasn’t a word until Google made it so! It’s hard to remember life before Google! One of my companies is a mash up of the words “tribute” and “salutation,” to capture the essence of what it really offers; so “Tributations,” my custom funeral eulogy authoring company, has an “invented” word to proclaim its real-estate namesake in the competitive business arena. New words often bring fresh perspectives and offer an innovative concept and ideology for branding purposes and recognition.
LONGEVITORS…inspired of course from the word longevity, which originated in the early 17th century: from Late Latin longaevitas, from Latin word longus 'long,' paired with aevum 'age'. Longevity, defined simply as a long duration of life; “longevitors” connotes positive mental imagery and suggests an optimistic perspective towards aging. It also implies more of a continual journey in a progressive and meaningful direction verses a final resting place. Personally, I like longevitors. It has dignity and suggests liberation, equality, and reverence. It implies a sense of vivaciousness and competence. What if we actually did insert “longetivors” into the long list of chronological literary age identifiers and redefine ages 65 plus with this emboldening and electrifying label to respectably define them appropriately? Is “longevitors discount” awkward? It sure sounds more impressive than senior, silver, or elder.
For me, personally—I’m going to replace the word senior with longevitor--and together, we can redefine and brand this prominent group of society with a label that suitably illuminates their essential role. I admire longevitors! I love working with longevitors! I enjoy consulting longevitors! And soon, if I’m lucky enough, I WILL BE A LONGEVITOR! So, you heard it here first. And, if your feelings acquiesce similarly, please join me in welcoming and sharing the term longevitors—together we can redefine this remarkable and vital group of our culture and fittingly do so with flair, finesse, and FUNctionality!
Holley Kelley, M.S., C.P.G., FT, is Founder of the Latter-Life Planning Institute and author of Sunrises and Sunsets: Final Affairs Forged with Flair, Finesse, and FUNctionality. She writes a monthly blog, BLOG with Flair, Finesse, and FUNctionality, and also produces a newsletter, The GerontHOLLEYgy. She practices as a gerontologist, consultant, is a Fellow in Thanatology, and hosts workshops on final affairs planning and preparedness. Holley is also a guest speaker and presenter and while her work focuses on end-of-life preparedness, her message is always inspiring and her focus is always about living your best life now. You can visit her at www.sunrisesandsunsetsbook.com or www.latterlifeplanninginstitute.com, www.tributationstoremember.com.