The Meyerowitz Stories
The Power of Meaning * Crafting a Life That Matters

Why the Language We Use for Aging Matters

By Susan Williams

Recently there was a media buzz around the fact that Allure Magazine was no longer going to use the term “anti-aging”. In their announcement about this change the magazine made an excellent point on why they made the shift – “language matters”.

And it really does.

So much of what we say and think both to ourselves and others can have an enormous impact on how we feel and behave.

For example, think about the last time someone suggested you look tired. It may have been an innocent enough comment but how did that make you feel? Did you possibly think to yourself, “did I get enough sleep last night” or “yeah, actually I am feeling tired” without even considering it before? Did you then find yourself feeling tired the rest of the day?

Even subtle suggestions can undermine our attitude and confidence.

So when we extend this to the language that surrounds aging, it is no wonder it has such a negative perspective.

Take the terms old bag, cranky old man, over-the-hill, decrepit, getting on, no spring chicken – not great images right? And they are all attached to thoughts about being old.

There is also another term that you probably hear being used more frequently.

When someone forgets something or does something without thinking, they may often refer to having a “senior moment“.  Even though this term is often said in fun or possibly a self deprecating manner, it is still language and thinking that reinforces a negative view of aging.

Even the language we use when speaking with elderly people can have emotional and health impacts. When this happens, it is referred to as “elderspeak”.

Elderspeak, is defined as;

“manner of communicating to older people using a slow rate of speaking, simplified syntax, vocabulary restrictions, and exaggerated prosody on the assumption that their age makes them cognitively impaired”

For example, when someone calls an elderly person sweetie or dear as kind as they may think they are being, it can in fact have a negative impact. Along with reinforcing aging stereotypes this language can have some health consequences such as worse functional health and even lower rates of survival.

When it comes to aging – language really does matter.

So the next time you comment about having a “senior moment” or send a birthday card to someone who is “over-the-hill”, maybe try and send a different message.

As David Bowie once said,

“If you are pining for youth I think it produces a stereotypical old man because you only live in memory, you live in a place that does not exist… I think ageing is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.”

Maybe that’s the type of language we should be using.


Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore – a website and social media network dedicated to providing information and inspiration to help Baby Boomers create and live their very best encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and personally tries to embrace Booming Encore’s philosophy of making sure every day matters. For daily updates to help you live your best encore, be sure to follow Booming Encore on Twitter and join them on Facebook.

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