Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Elder: A New Old Word

We have written before of the dilemma we sometimes find ourselves in here at Capabilities. We are a store for mobility and comfort and serve people along the whole age and abilities spectrum. Needless to say, we serve a large number of older folks as they and their families address the physical needs that emerge during the aging process. We have fought against the word, senior, and its many (sometimes perjorative) connotations. We use "older" quite a bit and refer, too, to the generational monikers of WWII Generation, the Silent Generation, and Boomers as means of conveying certain age groups. Occasionally, we use "elder," full with its original meaning of someone with experience who has a place of respect in a community. Its early usage often denotes someone who was connected with a church or religion, a tribe or community.

The word elder is making a comeback, we notice. For a while, it was rare to find the service or book, article or organization that used the word in its title. You might have found it in a subtitle or description of services. Lately, we see it emerging again. Dr. Marion Somers, for whom we have great respect, has a great book, Elder Care Made Easier, with tips and simple steps for caring for aging relatives and other loved ones. Her work centers on ensuring that we care for our elders in a most respectful and thoughtful way, while not burning out during the process.
We see new organizations sprouting and old ones getting makeovers, transplanting "senior" with "elder." As Boomers step now into the next decade of life, getting closer to those we used to think "old," resisting labels and notions that have perhaps summed up others, but not ourselves, our culture seems ready to find new words, or refurbish old ones, to speak about certain realities. For a culture that usually wants nothing to do with aging, the inevitable is upon us. The largest generation for decades will become society's oldest members within fewer years than most of us like to think. Will we be its elders, too?

What's your reaction to words like "senior" and "elder?" Is there another one you prefer? Does it really matter in the end? Weigh in. Post your comment below or email us.

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