Who Are You Calling “Elderly”?

450px-Maes_Old_Woman_DozingPeople don’t like getting old. People like it even less when they’re called old.

The term “elderly” is used to describe someone who is old, as in “elderly residents (people who live in a place)” or “elderly women.” We also use this term to talk about this segment (part; section) of the population: “the elderly.”

But who defines the age at which one becomes old and should be described as elderly?  This is a sensitive question, because some people say that to call someone elderly is to imply (say indirectly) that someone is weaker, less clear thinking, more forgetful, and generally less able than those who are not elderly. That’s why some people don’t want this term used to describe them.

The word “elderly” actually comes from the noun “elder,” which is simply a person who is older than the others in a particular group, and it doesn’t have a negative connotation (connection; implication). In fact, in some Christian churches and in some Native American tribes (groups; cultures), an elder is a leader who is respected and considered wise (showing a lot of knowledge and good judgement).

A recent National Public Radio story focused on the use of the term “elderly” in news stories, and complaints from the general public when the term is used for people who may be on the cusp (on the border; at the edge of) old age.  Is someone 70 elderly? How about 65 or 60?

In addition to “elderly,” people in the U.S. use the term “senior” or “senior citizen” to describe older people.  Generally, it is used for people who are retired (no longer working due to age).  Traditionally, the retirement age in the U.S. is 65, but these days, with people living longer, some people work into their 70’s or even 80’s.  You’ll see the term “senior” in many places: many restaurants, movie theaters, and stores have senior discounts (lower prices); colleges and community programs have classes targeted to (intended for) seniors; and there are housing developments and communities built to attract seniors.

While the term “senior” references (is related to) retirement, “elderly” does not, which means it is a more imprecise (not accurate) term. That is perhaps why there is more debate (disagreement) about who is considered elderly.

There was a comedian (performer who tells jokes and makes people laugh) named George Carlin who was popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s. One of his funny observations was this: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot (stupid person), and anyone going faster than you is a maniac (crazy person; person who behaves wildly)?”

I suppose (believe; think) defining “elderly” may work in the same way: it’s always someone older than me.

Are there terms for older people in the languages you know and is there a stigma (negative association) attached to them? At what age do you think someone should be considered or described as being elderly?

~ Lucy

Image Credit: Maes Old Woman Dozing from Wikipedia

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20 Responses to Who Are You Calling “Elderly”?

  1. Sergio Rodrigues says:

    In Brazil people over 60 are called sênior and are eligible to buy theather tickets at a lower price and have the rights to park their cars in identified places as long they have identified card that prove their age. At least one advantage to getting older.

  2. emiliano says:

    He Lucy, what a good subject to talk about, even more for an “old person” like me, ja ja, I don´t care to say that
    because I know inside my mind I don´t consider myself old but if I look to the mirror I said, yes you are old dear
    Emiliano, and it may be the reason I don´t like mirrors.

    Old to walk, to run, to make exercise, to go upstairs five or six floors, but not to think, not to have “by the moment”
    a very good memory, or even to learn new subjects.

    Once my curiosity would be over, or I would not like to learn more things………..then I´ll be an dead living old
    person, till then inside my heart I don´t feel so.

    Always it depends of point of views, also depends of the age a person looks at you. For a teen their parents are
    always old, it doesn´t mater their age. For a person who is 94 a 60 or 70 years old are a Young….points of view
    In spanish…old is not used, it is something like despective, they use the Word “mayores”…elderly people
    old…”viejo” has a bad meaning like not useful, and old house or thing, an old persons means something
    similar….but reality is what it is…….

    My best to you dear Young Lucy from your old friend emiliano

  3. parviz says:

    Hi Lucy,
    your topics are as good as the way write about them.
    As you mentioned there no rule about defining someone as elder. Here where I live we tend to call someone ”elder” who his beard has turned ”white”. There is also a term for these people as “Hajee”.

    This is a confusing term I know because Hajee refers to someone who has just returned from visiting the God’s House in Saudi Arabia (The Kaaba). people tend to Kaaba after they get older, and have gone all the thing tended to do, have gone all their trips to different places. I mean they leave this Holy trip to after they turned to 50s and 60s. Started from few decades ego the number of people who had visited The Kaaba started to increase so dramatically, which made it difficult for people to say WHO HAS REALLY GONE TO KAABA AND WHO HAS NOT.

    Therefore, people decides to use this term to people who has grown White beard, whether they had gone to Kaaba.
    By the way there a few insulting expression related to the word Hajee and some elders may get angree with you when we call them Hajee.
    I am a little worried about myself after I will have get to the age of 50s or 60s, what expression the youngsters would use to call me.

  4. parviz says:

    Hi emiliano,
    well I beg to differ
    Why do you see yourself old?
    There is a saying that goes like this ” someone is old when they stop using their imagination. Also with age comes WISDOM. retiring from a boring Job doesn’t make you Old. We waste all our life wondering how to make a living, after you retired you have time for living the life.
    You have all the experience, all the knowledge, to enjoy the life.
    No one considers us experienced when you a teenager.

  5. emiliano says:

    Parviz Thanks,
    your culture it is more respectful with people with more than 60, I know it perfectly well.
    I don´t feel myself like the way here in Spain or other Europeans countries see their
    elder people, it seems to me older are here like silly people that needs to be entertained, and
    the City Halls, Goverment, invent all kind of places to let elder persons be together, talking
    one with other, be amused, and so for.
    Why so much interest?
    Elder persons vote, and there are millions in this deciduous Western society that vote.
    Their votes gives power in democracy, that´s the reason to treat so many older as if
    they were half silly.

    There is not any kind of respect for them, seeing and old person some people see a vote…
    and only that.

    Sorry my dear Parviz but it is just what I see here and other similar places like this
    Not yours, of course, but for how many time?.

    Yes, I am a sceptic person that observe this my society that changes every moment.

    Thanks a lot, be so for a long time.


  6. Øyvor Steinsheim says:

    parvitz; stop using their imagination?? I don`t agree to that saying.. =)
    In the mirror..I am old, in my mind..sometimes I`m feeling like 17..and often like 80!! Depends of what your life experiences are, maybe..
    I don`t feel bad by being 59(am I 59 or 58???..=))..BUT..I`d like to have a mirror like the one up in my old cottage..a very old and shabby one
    in which you always are looking OK! Plus you can`t see the whole body.. hahaha.. it`s interesting to see the body changing really, if you
    have a bit of self-irony.. the most important to me is to be able to get up in the morning, being able to see, to walk, being able to do
    a few things still.. being able to listen to my podcasts and books.
    Plus..my grandchildren loves to stay with us..we have lots of time for them, what a gift!!

  7. Peter says:

    Dear Emiliano ,
    You are too kind my friend ,referring to ur kind words about me on the previous blog post.

    I wish I could write some verses or narrate some stories,but,it is way over my head my friend.

    The way I see it , the key variable to a good poem is “Rhyhtem ”
    You know what I mean the same pattern must be followed through the entire poem. The same flow and consistency.
    Sadly ,my friend I don’t have any sense of rhythm.
    I don’t have it in me.
    You must have a flair for it.
    I m a talentless individual who talks blue streak on blog, that is all:)))


  8. Peter says:

    It is all in your head Lucy ,
    Hi sis ,
    For the first time in the history of man kind a women not only says the word ” elderly” but also chooses it as a topic of discussion.
    Way to go sis:)) that is very brave of you.
    You know why you are doing it because ,U know the fact that you are 19 at heart;))
    Well, the way I see it , being old and feeling old is all psychological , I mean it is in your head.
    U know if our skin gets wrinkly and saggy or we get all flabby as grow old it is all the work of gravity. And , more importantly a part of the Great adventure we call it life
    But ,guys, i don’t think gravity has any effect on minds ,so Think Yong;)

    Don’t let a bit change in your looks gets to your head.

    Well, people take different path to the whole process
    Some face it , and accept they are it
    as nature way of saying that the end is closing in.
    But , some others go totally in denial
    They do everything in their power to reverse time, Such a pointless attempt
    Guys ,
    Let’s face it . it is a fact of life . as we grow older our bodies go through some changes . Well, it is the circle of life ,and There is no way out. So, the best we can so is to accept it . Let life runs its natural course. You know what we should do ? we should try to enjoy it all along.
    That you live just once. So , try to live your life to the fullest and make every minute counts.


  9. Peter says:

    Emiliano ,
    How dare you?
    How dare you calling yourself old.
    Man , it is all in your head. Push all the negative thoughts out of your head. Start thinking Yong.

    May you Always Feel Yong bro


  10. emiliano says:

    Such a good subject Lucy, to me it is interesting by all means.
    First I begin to write my blog, I put on the screen a Young Emiliano, when he was 28 more or less, I had already
    my three daughters but always I have looked younger, for years and years.
    My wife Cuca was the same, looking at her when she was 30 with three grown up daughters it seems she was
    only 23 or even lest.

    After some months, nearly a year, I have changed my photo on my blog and there is some of the real Emiliano
    looking with his real age, with a beard and moustache. Nice man with his cat Gatufo.
    I don´t care to see me in the pc. with my own new face of the blog.

    At home we have only one mirror, and I have never like mirrors…….why?. I don´t know.
    Cuca, never now looks herself in the mirror, never never, it is very understable to me as she is beeing ill for
    more tan 14 years, despite she looks Young she doesn´t like herself with a face she thinks it is of a sick

    Of course, one feels Young or old inside his/her mind, but it is necessary to accept the reality of life.
    My younger daughter is 38 now, she seems to have 10 less, yest that´s true. The same as Eva the first
    one. But we all know our age quite well.

    Yes, inside I could feel myself even better that with 38 years old, in fact now I could be more happy doing
    what I like to do, with my whole day for Cuca and for me, not going to work every morning. getting up
    at 6,30 a.m. in winter´s mornings with – 3 or -4 at that hour.
    So yes, now I feel good, doing what I ever wanted….write and lear English, I have not grandsons because
    the girls doesn´t want babies, so I have Gatufo my dear cat who loves me absolutely. He is always close
    to me, or on me. Every night he dreams in the midle of the bed between Cuca and me. I like to make
    videos of him, also photos, and what is better I do accept my age by all means but I don´t feel myselft the
    same way I could see other men with my own years.

    I love Cuca even more than when we were Young, it is different of course, phisically everything changes but inside
    the heart or the mind love increase ever day I am with her.

    My best dear, I am with you Oyvor, you express perfectly well our feelings.

    Thanks to all of you, emiliano

  11. Sylvain says:

    Hi everybody.

    As an ederly, I’ve tried to improve my English for years. But I was not very successful, which proves I am really an ederly (being in fact three years older than Jeff). You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, can you ? Just kidding. Anyway thank you for this website : it belongs to the sunny site of the Internet

  12. Sylvain says:

    oops !

    Sorry : the sunny *side* of course. One of these senior moments

  13. Dan says:

    Hi guys

    Sorry Lucy, I do not know anything about elderly people, sooo…. I would like to give out a few tips on how to get a good laugh:

    1. To all Kindle owners: go and read the one star customer review of Fifty Shades of Grey. DO NOT BUY THE BOOK!

    2. Search on YouTube for “drive through prank” the one with the invisible driver is great and the guys’ reactions are so funny.


  14. Taher says:

    Hi dear LUSY

    Here in some part of IRAN we say “Gharee” for elderly wemen and “Ghoja” for elderly men. Also we use these words for who need’s help.

    Thank you very much for the interesting topics.

  15. Lassana says:

    Hi Everybody,

    In my country, in France, the word ” Senior ” is the term which is employed to define an older person.

    In society, I think ” Senior ” is the better noun. Gouvernment, officials and associations done many things for elderly persons, in particularly housing developments and communities built.

    but in the world of work, there is a stigma to older people.
    French administration has voted a law saying people more than 45 years are ” Senior “.
    This law apply to all compagnies of a certain size. They have to prepare carreer evolution of employees.

    I think about this topic, that 45 years is too early. Besides, in some compagnies it is a stigma because some people look at you as someone who is weaker, less clear thinking…
    While in this age people generaly yet are in good form.

    I Think that attitudes have to change. That will do little by little.

    Thanks for this very interesting topic !

  16. Betty says:

    Dear Lucy

    First of all, I would like to thank you for this article which really made me think hard in order to write something here.

    Instead of answering your question, I want to write something about myself.

    In my whole life, there were a number of times that I was very scared to tell people my age.

    The first time I was scared was I found that some of my classmates were younger than me but a lot better than me in every subject. I did not want them to know I was older than them.

    When I was working, I did not want people to feel that I was too young for my job. I concluded that if they thought I was too young, they were in doubt about my abilities.

    It doesn’t matter anymore what happened in the past. Now I do not have to care about my age because other people really do not care about my age.

    Like emiliano, I do not have to wear my best suit and go to work so early in the morning even when the weather was so harsh.

    All that matter is whether I can look after myself and remain happy, which I am lucky enough to give a positive answer today.

    I would like to borrow what George Bernard Shaw once said’

    “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

    Good Day, all my good friends.

    Betty 🙂

  17. Dan says:

    Thank you Betty! for sharing that.

    Hey guys,

    For enyone interested, on youtube there is this channel called “listen and read along”.
    I think is a VOA channel. give it a shot.


  18. JAVIER says:

    “Anciano” is a word used to indicate a fragil person that need atention, help and care very much.
    “jubilado” is used to indicate a retired person.
    “persona mayor” is used to indicate any person elder than you, specially after 50 years old.


  19. Ebti says:

    Hi everybody
    In my country Iran there are a number of terms to refer to old members
    of the society.Some are positive and some are negative.As Parviz said one
    of the terms used is “hajee” for men or” hajeeh ” for women.These terms
    are positive because most elderly like to visit God’s house and consider
    these terms nice.
    One of the negative terms that I really hate is”pirmard”for men or “pirzan”
    for women.These terms imply weakness and illness.Most elderly don’t like
    them,as doesn’t my dad who is an auwsome 63 year old researcher.

  20. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    The more is said about this subject, the less people know about it. Old are your thoughts, old are your prejudices, old is your mind, old are your actions when you think other people are old. I say that if you don’t want to get old you better die young. There is no scientific proof that old people get worse, except the fact that they are susceptible to go ill easier because their body has worked for a long time and is tired. Think a heart working for 95 years. Count out the beats it makes using 75 beats a minute. Remember your grandparents, how it was great to meet them and have a talk. How was great to feel their touch, their hands on our heads, their blesses. I wish I could have them untill today and I am 72 now.
    Aecio from beautiful Brazil.

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