Wisdom For Aging – Age and Ageism

Issue 2, Article 1

If I live to see the end of the Mini-Boom—my children’s old age, beginning from years 2046 to 2054—I will be one hundred years old. Having had three grandparents live over age 95, I expect to be around. Recent medical research backs up the age-old notion that the human body is equipped to survive until 120 years old, if disease and disabilities are kept to a minimum.

I can’t help but wonder what things will be like for me, my three kids and three step-kids, our eleven grandkids and three great-grandkids (and I am only 55!), and all the ones to follow. I am active, informed and engaged with family, friends, business associates and our society. I am not alone. There are many more like me; in fact, about 77 million of us Baby Boomers. Most of us work, vote, have families and we watch out for our kids and parents.


As a Gerontologist, a social scientist who studies research, trends and successful aging specific to ages 60 and above, I spend a lot of time evaluating older age groups and the products and services they typically require and use. Healthcare reform will affect every age group, and many Americans are unaware—or just very trusting—of how this will work out specifically for them. Since the mathematics of taxpayer cost for government-run healthcare is massive and unrealized, America is not yet ready for the upheaval over “all ages-related” services and care options its people are about to enter into.

So it’s time to have a discussion about age and ageism. Ageism is one of the prejudices that—much like racism, genderism or religious hatred—spurs some who are not older to behave badly toward those who are older, whether it’s thinly masked or blatantly evident. It is time to call ageism out into the open, and name it for what it is: just another form of prejudice. In fact, names are what prejudice usually can be recognized by.

First, let’s agree that “a rose by any other name is still a rose”, and conversely, a stinker is always a stinker. In preparing to write this article, I researched this topic with my 23-year old daughter and some of her friends. I asked them for names that they have used or heard old people called by. Some funny and a few irreverent terms came out.

They started with the respectful senior citizens and retirees, moved to mature individuals and had no problem with the generic, the old. Not all that problematic. I threw down the gauntlet that I wanted reality, and we agreed that mature adults, although accurate, just sounded a little triple-X. We then got to geezers, blue hairs and old farts, which are okay only when that age group uses those monikers (sound familiar?). We laughed when they admitted to using old asses or grandmas when anyone drives too slowly in front of them; which, they pointed out, is unfair to their own “rockin’ grandmas”, whom they really love. We all had to agree with the newest and most accurate term for seniors: older adults.

This exercise proves that most Americans can come to terms with ageism and dispel it, although there will always be the jerks and the immature. In examining the terms we choose to describe what ALL of us are destined to become—old—the positive naming of older people can be a genuine effort NOT to marginalize their accomplishments and their ongoing contributions to society. Maybe, this time, we can get it right!

© 2010 Diane Alexander Patterson, MSG, CPG “If good real estate is about location, location, location, then ‘success in aging’ is about attitude, attitude, attitude!”

Wisdom For Aging – Tips on Caring for the Elderly: Elderspeak

Issue 1, Article 1

I am pretty fluent in “elderspeak”: my term for the language of what matters to the elderly. As a Gerontologist, a social scientist who studies research, trends and the promotion of successful aging specific to ages 60 and above, I know that older adults respond better to some approaches than others. Fortunately, there are a growing number of professionals out there to assist families and individuals in using compassion and common sense as loved ones age and their needs change.

Whether you are caring for aging parents or new to the aging marketplace, here are a few of my Successful Strategies in Elderspeak. These recommendations have their foundations in biology of Aging and psychology of Aging coursework and in my many years of experience with older adults.


Slow down.

Think quickly, but speak slowly. Response time, both physically and mentally, is a little slower for elderly, but not necessarily of lesser quality. That is also important to remember when deciding how to approach your family members/clients: they have “been around the block” more often than their younger counterparts, so don’t assume they can’t keep up with you when you are explaining your policies and procedures.

Say what you mean.

Your older adult might not have understood what you meant.  Since the elderly come from a different generation than most of us do, their “dictionary” could be a little different than yours, in the sense of how you are phrasing things. Terms and technology change quickly these days. Ask your family member/client if you are making sense to her/him, and if need be, re-phrase until she/he clearly understands you.

Ask the elder to repeat it.

Always a great idea in any communication exercise, but especially helpful with the elderly.  You will get a first hand lesson in what your family member/client has translated your message into.  Also, being from a very respect-oriented generation, he/she might not have assertively communicated his/her preferences to you.   Their respect for your family/professional status might put them off from pressing harder.

Remember that the issues of respect, losses, and wisdom are important.

Aging brings along with it a desire to complete one’s lifework.  Youth has fallen away, careers have receded, and children have universes of their own.  Life becomes quieter.  Offer work that takes into account those parameters, realize that respect is the greater part of their dignity, and give consideration to the chronic losses of old age. Be honoring.

Di Patterson, MSG, CPG

© 2010 Diane Alexander Patterson, MSG, CPG “If good real estate is about location, location, location, then ‘success in aging’ is about attitude, attitude, attitude!”