Elderly, Senior Citizen, Older Person, What Term Do You Use?


What terms do we use to describe people over 50, 60, 70 or 80? The terms senior citizen, elderly, and old person come to mind. Each of these terms elicits different reactions for different people. As a child, I thought an older person was anyone over 50. Now that I am over 50, do I consider myself an older person? No! I consider people in there 90’s as being elderly. Maybe if they are in there 80’s and have health issues, I might consider them an older person. Older can also just mean older than me.

The dictionary says that a senior citizen is an elderly person, someone who is retired and on a pension. I know many retired 60 – 75 year olds who would not consider themselves a senior citizen. As our health care allows us to get older in healthier bodies, the language describing this age group will need to adjust. 

An elderly person is often thought of as aged, decrepit, over the hill, doddery, a geezer or grizzled. These terms are not actually kind and polite. They come from a place of disrespect and not seeing the person as someone who is still contributing and aware. Some elders have even said that they feel invisible in our culture. Can we change these perceptions?

We can also look at what words of respect best describe this population. Other cultures honor their elders in different ways. Jared Diamond in his TED talk refers to the Japanese deep veneration for the old. In some countries of Africa and in India, specific phrases and suffixes communicate a high level of respect for elders. For example; Mahatma Gandhi was referred to as Gandhiji. Could we learn something from these examples and cherish the gifts, insights and opportunities to contribute that we are all capable of, no matter what the age.

The baby boomers are aging. How will this engaged and entitled demographic impact the reality of growing old(er), considering they have shaped everything else in their (our) path so far? This is a great topic for a discussion with someone in your life and in communities who deal with this precious population.


May is Older Americans Month and the theme is "Age Out Loud". Older people are actively participating in life far longer and with robust energy and consciousness. I say Yahoo for them!




If you could tell your loved ones that they will feel less anxiety, stress and depression after you die, would you take the steps now to make this happen? End of life planning has benefits for you also. You will spend less time in the hospital, have a closer relationship with family and friends, have a greater quality of life and experience relief and a sense of completion. And by completing a health care directive, you could contribute to reducing health care costs overall. When no instructions or spokesperson is designated, money is spent when it might not have been.

I have read that about 35% of adults over 18 have an Advance Health Care Directive. Why is it only a third of the population? Lack of awareness is one reason. People considering themselves healthy and not needing a directive is another reason. Some folks think it cost to prepare this document, and that it will take too much time. Others want input from their doctors or other health care providers and haven’t broached the subject. And of course the famous “I’ll get to it later” pops up a lot.

1. Do it now!

While you have your smarts about you, take the time to discuss, research and complete an advanced directive. Avoiding this task and risking a crisis could lead to making decisions when clarity of thinking is not happening.

There are 2 main parts of a health care directive. 1 – choosing an agent/proxy to make the decisions for you when you are unable to make them yourself and 2 – specifying what your wishes are. Both of these will take time to consider and are very important decisions that only you can make. There are options for which document to complete. I use the Five Wishes created by the non-profit organization, Aging with Dignity. This document also covers emotional, spiritual and physical wishes. Hospitals often make this document available, as do attorneys. Find one that you are comfortable with and start the work.

2. Discuss your wishes with your health care providers.

A study done at Stanford found that 99% of the doctors were not comfortable talking about death with their patients. Whoa! I find this to be amazing. It is up to us, you and me, to lead the conversation with our providers.  We need them to be informed about what we want, be an ally in making this happen and help us understand the wishes we want. Many doctors do not know that this document is on file. So, have those conversations.

3. Speak to your family and friends about your wishes, especially those you designate as your agent/proxy.

I have heard that people were named as agents and not told about it. Can you imagine the scene when someone gets the call that they were named agent for a loved one who is in critical care and have no idea what their wishes are. Would that person confidently, willingly and ably engage with doctors to decide your fate? Yikes!

Set up time to talk to your agents, family and friends about the decisions you are making. If at all possible, get all your agents together so they hear the same information and can ask questions for clarification when all are present. You can also give copies of this important document to those agents and family members. Your health care provider and hospital also need copies.

4. Update your document as you gain more information, experience and knowledge.

As time goes on, your life changes as does your health and relationships. Reviewing your document to make sure it is current and relevant is critical to having a document that will serve you at a time of need. I suggest that you review your advance health care directive at least every five years. When you get older and your health changes, review it annually. I also suggest that you listen well to stories of other people experiences. This will help you get clarity about your wishes, intention and values.

If you want a dignified death, do the work now to ensure that it will happen. You will rest easier!

Here are resources that can guide and assist you in researching the process, completing the document and having the needed conversations. 


What to do with all THIS stuff? A Primer - #1

I have African artifacts from my time in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I have the stuff to make jewelry and other art projects. I have my own jewelry, art, special dishes and fabric. Who will want it? What will they do with it? How will they dispose of it? My family is all over the place, what to do then?


We all have “stuff” in our lives. Whether it is favorite baby clothes or memorabilia, a treasured baseball bat and glove, tools used to build those amazing projects, or a special candy bowl. Some items have value and some do not. For some, the value lies solely in the emotional significance the item has. We actually do not know how others feel about our stuff.


The task of passing on our personal property is thought to be an easy one – “They will figure it out” or “It’s not worth much so why bother now” or “Let them fight over it all”. Any attorney will tell you that the issue of passing on your personal property when you are not here will most likely be a challenging one that may lead to family disagreements.


There are 2 areas of personal property: Titled and non-titled. Titled property is usually dealt with through a deed, title, will, or trust. This includes property, a business, valuable art, vehicles, etc. Non-titled property usually does not have these legal mechanisms guiding who gets what. Items such as: clothing, photo albums and photographs, guns, books, tools, furniture, toys, dishes, linens, sport equipment, collections, craft projects, jewelry, devises, travel mementoes, etc. Have you noticed that these items make up the gist of our daily lives? 


To help you deal with this area of Putting Your Affairs in Order, I suggest that you have conversations with your loved ones about what is important to them and why. These conversations are an opportunity to dig deeper with those in your family about the meanings of items, their connection to you and their relationship to others. Bravely take the step to grapple with this important issue now and reap the benefit of closer connections.


Future blog posts will offer resources to use and other ideas about how to deal with the Stuff of Life. Stay tuned. 

A little about Maggie Watson

Who is Maggie Watson?

What a funny thing to ask! So here goes...  I am the 2nd oldest of 10 children and have been organizing all my life. That is what my mother said. I went to 12 years of Catholic school and then off to college. I graduated with a BA in Sociology/ Anthropology. I moved to California to work at the Hunger Project, a non-profit organization. I served 2+ years in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, West Africa doing community development and public health. After Peace Corps I moved back to California and worked in a children's camp then I moved to France to learn French. After moving to Mendocino County, I worked at Parents & Friends, a non-profit for developmentally disabled adults. I managed the kitchen where clients made baked goods for the community, worked as a skills trainer and as staff in a house for clients. 

I started organizing in 1985 and have been organizing for the last 30 years. I have organized kitchens, garages, kid’s rooms, offices and events. I have worked with people around organizing their thinking about specific projects, issues, decisions, etc. I have helped prepare for moves and empty boxes after the moves. Mostly, I have worked with elders helping them stay independent in their homes. Activities included in this service involve paying bills, opening mail, balancing bank accounts, keeping an eye on investments, calling repair persons, attending appointments with attorneys and physicians, preparing financial information for tax accountant, communicating with family members and moving a client when that was appropriate. I love being in the home with clients and doing work that helps their lives go better. 

Along the way, I worked with my husband, Bruce, in our solar business, Mendocino Solar Service. I ran the office, managed staff and did the marketing. I also published a book "A Graceful Farewell: Putting Your Affairs in Order" out of work with elders and a good friend who passed away. This book assists people in gathering all the information loved ones, trustees and executors will need. 

Now I have made a move to a new endeavor for myself – being a private fiduciary. This is the chapter in my life. I am excited about serving people in this new capacity. 

What is a fiduciary?

Fiduciaries have a specific role to play today and in the future. As the baby boomers age, the need for trustworthy, responsible and loyal professionals will increase. As a fiduciary, I will honor your wishes with care and compassion. I will follow the intentions of the legal documents honestly and with integrity. A fiduciary is a coordinator, a facilitator, a researcher, an advocate, a negotiator, and someone who will get the job done. We are also good listeners and care for the people we are involved with.