The image of “being older” and a being “a senior” has never been so relevant as when I finally accepted that I was one. Understand: I’ve been in the senior care industry for the past eight years and have been in my 60s even longer. I only recently embraced my age as what it IS.
Our youth-oriented society, where we’re told that we’re old by age 40, has made all of us ashamed of aging. The cosmetics, clothing, and elective surgery industries—among others—count on that shame all the way to the bank. And who hasn’t secretly cringed at getting an AARP application when they turn 50?
As time marches we focus on our changing image, wrinkles, sagging middle region, and graying hair—if we’re lucky enough to have it. But accepting that we ARE seniors takes personal courage and self-acceptance. It’s a surrender from what was to what is.
Ultimately, it’s an inward journey from the outward world of the physical, objectified to a deeper understanding of our true nature. In my role as Programs and Services Manager for Vintage House I’m aware of the need for new terminology for this stage of life. If we look at life through a statistical description, we’re children through age 12, a teenager till 20, a young adult to 40, middle-aged until 55, and a senior for the last 45 years of life—again, if we’re lucky. The longest stage of our entire lives is actually the last one. Currently, 15% of the U.S. population is over 65. By 2050 that number rises to 24% and 10,000 Boomers are retiring each day.
Who among us wants to be called a senior? The image of sticking a finger down my throat comes to mind. From where I stand, my image of a senior is now someone over 95. What about the 40-year-old? They may see a 60-year-old as a senior. God forbid.
As I meet other fellow geezers, I’ve been testing possible terms to describe being older. “Senior” seems worn out, tired, over-used. Elder sounds so formal; Native American to some ears and for the rest of us, it’s too closely associated with elderly, which definitely is the meander out to up pasture. “Aging adult” sounds too clinical and it’s an unpleasant reminder of the truth. What best describes this stage of life without having habitual, negative baggage attached to it?
It’s a national conversation. Funny about that. The preferred terminology in senior organizations is emerging. It’s aging adults and older adults. I like it. It includes a path for the 21-year-old who doesn’t have a clue of what’s ahead or how quickly he or she will arrive. It’s an inclusive term with no negative connotation.
So now I know who I am. What a relief. I am an aging adult. What about you?
Kelsey Maddox is the program manager at Vintage House. Reach him at [email protected] or 707.996.0311 x307.