I have been following the “Seniors, Elders, Oldsters” exchange that was launched by Ronni Bennet’s letter to the New York Times.
I don’t have an answer but I do have some opions and and couple of guidelines that I use when I am thinking about this question.
1) The world “elderly” is a slur. It is a solid mass of negative stereotypes and it serves to depersonalize the person/people it is applied to. I have removed it from my vocabulary.
2) The word “Seniors” is much less pejorative than “elderly” I think it does have a place in the conversation and it can serve as a “middle ground” concept as we work to sort this language out. Recently, I have been working to promote a concept I call the “Senior ER” which provides high quality emergency care that is optimized for older people. The word seems to work in this context.
3) The word “oldster” is often used as a negative slang reference to older people. It is in the same category as “greedy geezer.” There is some chance that “oldster” could be adopted by older people and repurposed into a positive term but I have not seen any real sign of that yet.
4) My support the word “elder” is derived from the reasoning that follows. We can think of the major human stages as the “Hoods.” Childhood comes first and we call a person living in childhood— a “child.” Next there is Adulthood. People living in this stage are, of course, known as “adults.” The last stage of human development is Elderhood and, therefore, I speak of people living in this stage as— “Elders.” Entry into true elderhood is more about the person and less about biology and many people never make it out of adulthood so the term is not perfect.
Those are my thoughts— what are yours?