The Elderly – time for a new phrase

Recently a LinkedIn colleague forwarded an editorial titled "Supporting the Elderly" from the Global Action on Aging office (, and something really interesting jumped out at me. The term "the elderly" has always bothered me because it lumps older adults into a catagory that carries lots of negative baggage. This article illustrates what I mean. When the author spoke of young people who needed assistance he didn't lump them into a catagory but instead referred to them as "individuals facing difficulties" – key word here – individuals.

Also, I noticed when the author started talking about how Boomers could use their skills and expertice to contribute to the community his language changed. He used the phrase "respect elders" not respect "the elderly". This article provides a great case for getting rid of the phrase "the elderly". If a person wants to convey older adults with special needs, then say elders in need (if you need the age reference at all).

22 responses to “The Elderly – time for a new phrase”

  1. Gaea Yudron says:

    Reworking language is an important part of consciousness raising and social change, as we’ve seen in the womens’ lib and civil rights movements. I have written about the importance of reclaiming the word old in my blog

  2. Kay Van Norman says:

    Gaea, Thanks for your comments and for you blog. It’s terrific. Kay

  3. zhang says:

    Love this new feature! love this page.

  4. Kay Van Norman says:

    Thank you Zhang. Glad it is helpful. Kay

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  7. lilylee86 says:

    That is great and if you wish, just check:

  8. Brad Fallon says:

    Elders are a far more better way to communicate and not the word “elderly”. Nice post. Keep it up.

  9. Montanakay says:

    Thanks Brad. Elder is such a good word – until the ly changes the entire meaning. Thanks for reading. Kay

  10. Kevin says:

    I feel referancing someone as elderly is a compliment. Mostly because if someone survives to old age they get some brownie points.

  11. Mostly because if someone survives to old age they get some brownie points.

  12. Montanakay says:

    Weagree Kevinbut I just dont think the elderly gives the brownie points they deserve. Refering to someone as an elder gives kudos for experience and wisdom that only time can offer. Elderly is unfortunately closely linked with the concept of frailty.Ask someone inyour life who is over 75 if they like to be refered to as elderly – especially someone who sees themselves as being vital and active.

  13. What’s a good topic!

  14. I appreciate the individual thoughts and opinions, but would be much more affected by logical and educated replies

  15. bpc sap says:

    I agree with you.

  16. Kay Van Norman says:

    Check out a book titled Counter Clockwise by Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard. She has done a tremendous amount of research on how attitudes and expectations (and language) impact the beliefs, behaviors and health outcomes of older adults. Plenty of facts and logic for you! And a great book. Kay

  17. Andews Hayes says:

    That’s a good point of view. Using “elderly” kinda has this connotation that you’re making them look older than their age. It sounds a lot better if you simply call them “elders.”

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  19. Montanakay says:

    Thanks! Feel free to visit my website at for more articles and information. Kay
    Kay Van Norman, President
    Brilliant Aging
    Author of of book, Exercise Wellness for Older Adults (2010)

  20. I agree, the word “elder” seems to command respect and makes it sound like someone we look up to whereas elderly seems to indicate someone we need to look after whose capacities are failing them.
    The Englisg language is quite amazing this way isn’t it?

  21. Montanakay says:

    It really is amazing. And we all key off of not only words, but inflection and body language when people speak to us (or about us). Thanks for reading!! Feel free to check out my website at for more articles etc. Kind Regards, Kay
    Kay Van Norman, President
    Brilliant Aging
    Author of of book, Exercise Wellness for Older Adults (2010)

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