Caveat Youngstor: Seniors don’t like to be called that name any more. And be careful what else you call them: They’re strong and increasingly strong in numbers. They’re living longer, working longer, raising grandchildren and actively participating in their communities as employees and active volunteers.
Icons of aging, Betty White and Morgan Freeman, host television shows and hawk products. Changing hair color isn’t the negative media image it once was, as marketers are discovering green in silver.
Preferred expressions are, perhaps, “older adults” and “Boomers” or maybe “Third Agers,” the last referring to post retirement when more Americans are revitalizing, even remaking their lives.
Third Agers don’t want descriptions conveying limitation, compartmentalization, paternalism, negativity or finality. They want terms on their terms: open-ended, vital, positive, empowering and full of possibilities. They want to grasp new opportunities their parents didn’t consider and their grandparents couldn’t comprehend.
“No boomer wants to be called a senior. They no longer see across-the-board age milestones as defining the aging process or accept the homogeneous concepts their parents did,” says Melanie Starns, M.A.G., assistant director of the Arizona Department of Economic Services — Division of Aging & Adult Services in Phoenix. “Instead, they are defining later life in terms of doing their own thing, of freedom and individuality.”
Baby Boomers are Rockin’ n' Rollin’
In describing themselves, today’s older Americans are reaffirming the themes that typified the ‘60s social revolution, led by post-World War II Baby Boomers: self-actualization, the celebration of choice rather than the acceptance of societal limitations, community involvement and volunteerism.
“We have an opportunity to redefine aging as a very positive experience and tear down the old barriers and misperceptions. We have to focus on the assets of aging and the value of people as they age,” says Sandy Markwood, chief executive officer of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) in Washington, D.C.
“Older Americans see themselves several decades younger than their chronological age,” adds Teri Kennedy, Ph.D., MSW, director of the Office of Gerontological Social Work Initiatives with the Arizona State University School of Social Work in Phoenix and Tucson. So, the often-heard numbers shift: 60 is the new 40 and 100 the new 80.
To students or groups she addresses Kennedy often describes this attitude shift in terms of two metaphors. “Remember Russian nesting dolls, each one successively smaller than the one before, fitting one into the other? Well, we see ourselves more like that: Our present includes all that has come before — with each successive doll representing a new age,” she says.