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That 6-letter word we dread…”SENIOR”

I came face-to-face with fears of being called a “senior” recently when I was contacting local “heroes” in the Oak Park, IL area to be recognized in our “Celebrating Seniors” program. People are nominated based on their service to the community and then are chosen to be included in the “60 Over 60” events. This includes their names, photos, age, and experiences in a section in the local paper, special events, etc.

Some folks were honored to be chosen. Others horrified! They didn’t want to be associated with “Seniors”, even though a few were in their 70s.

What is it about the word “SENIOR”? It’s great when you’re 17 years old and are a senior in high school because you have the world in front of you and can rule the hallways for your last year. It’s fine when you’re getting $2 off at the movie theater. But “call” someone a “senior when they’re not psychologically prepared and you have just flung the rudest insult at them!

“Senior” is especially alienating to the new generation of active, healthy, vibrant seniors, no matter what their age. (A friend calls these “junior seniors” – a much better descriptor!) Earlier generations saw seniors being infirm, sometimes a burden on their children, wearing knee high hose – often rolled down to their ankles with an handkerchief tucked into their sleeves. (When was the last time you saw a handkerchief???)

At 64, I sometimes have my senior moments – not being forgetful but feeling a new ache or looking in the mirror and seeing a much older person. But these are moments and not a mindset! I go for a relatively brisk walk or color my hair and I’m back to my youthful self. We all do this.

So if we don’t want to be called “seniors”, what DO we want to be called? “Boomers” is one term often used, but that only represents one group born between 1946 and 1964. This doesn’t include the spry 70 year olds. We’re looking for a term that describes the life stage, not the cultural generation.

I love the term “adultescents” coined by my psychologist friend, Liz Monroe-Cook. It works because our life is very similar to that of our “adolecence”, again a transitional time of physical and psychological change. Instead of raging hormones, rash decisions and risky actions we’re more likely to be safer, saner and in control. The life stages are very comparable, yet “adultescent” doesn’t trip off your tongue as smoothly as “senior”.

We have “encore careers” and a great website for the “vibrant nation”. Carol Orsborn calls us “Fierce with Age”. We’re “mature”, “grown-up”, “elder”, and “over the hill”. And we STILL need a better term for this alive, often active, sometimes couch-potatoish, wise and funny life stage – that doesn’t make us dread hearing.

Any good ideas, please send them to me. And I promise to lead the biggest PR campaign to change the world when we find the right word!


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