Earlier today, Drs. Bill Thomas and Al Power held a streaming video conversation at www.PickerReport.org to discuss the power of language and words on person-centeredness. In particular, they discussed the recent debate at ChangingAging.org regarding the use of words such as “Elderly”, “Frail” and “Senior Citizens”. If you missed the live broadcast, I edited together the conversation on YouTube so you can share the video with friends:
Kavan is a social media entrepreneur committed to growing the use of social networking towards promoting the equality, sustainability, health and well being of people of all ages. Combining careers as a national journalist and public relations expert, Kavan focuses on the power of user-generated content to communicate ideas and build movements.
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When I turned 50 I was a Senior Citizen eligible for discounts. I felt guilty taking them as I did not feel like an Elder. The term Senior Citizen stuck for many years. Only recently is it beginning to be replaced with Elder.
The term Elderly was used long before Elder became the favorite term and it did stereotype we old people. Strange to me that the addition of the word Elder changes by simply adding two letters ‘ly’.
I am old and no words will change that fact. I do not object to being referred to as elderly as it doesn’t change me or my physical being. Shakespears said it best: “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name is still a rose.”
Ayn Fox says
This conversation reminds me of the language consciousness brought out at the beginning of Women’s Lib; to use the word woman rather than girl. I think that language not only shifts the attitude of the person speaking, but also those who are spoken of. I associate wisdom with the word elder – and if I am referred to as an elder – even if I don’t feel particularly wise – it may have me shift my thinking. Elderly to me – sounds tired. I also like using the person’s name who is living with a particular condition. It reminds us that we all are multi-dimensional and much more than a specific condition.
Liz Drance says
Hi Bill and Al –
Long time no connect with! Great to start my day being reminded about the essential nature of language in shifting culture.
As most of my work is now supporting people with Dementia who show their distress and fear, and frustration through their behavior, it has been really important to think of ways to describe their needs in positive language. While I am still working on it, I do prefer the terms behavior that is “need-driven” (Kowalski, Algase et al) or someone with “high behavioral support needs” which implies they need a lot of support to help them function behaviorally at their best. The other phrase that is helpful is “response-behavior”, although people always think we are talking about a response to an external stimulus, where we need to help them understand the behavior might be in response to an internal stimulus such as pain or discomfort, or psychosis.
A change in language that helps people look beyond the behavior to understand the person and their needs is what leads to individualized, person centered, comprehensive approaches to supporting people living with dementia (and those who aren’t living with dementia too! – we all need to experience a person-centered approach to our challenges) More to say about that later.
Anyway – thanks for forwarding the conversation and being the change you want to see in the world! Talk to you soon –