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!