It's time to let 'geezers' go

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So, I met this crotchety old man the other day. What an old fart!

Not such nice words to describe the older gentleman, right? A new book on ageism in the media agrees. “Media Takes: On Aging,” recently published by the International Longevity Center—USA, and Aging Services of California, hits home the prevalence of negative stereotyping in the media towards aging people.

Turn on your TV and it’s clear that negative depictions are everywhere—from the portrayals of older people in TV shows to crass advertising.

For example, how often have you seen an older woman portrayed on television who was active, positive and enjoyable to be around? Most older characters—think Raymond’s mother, Maria Barone, in “Everyone Loves Raymond"—are nags or shrews or those sinister mothers-in-laws, the book notes.

And what about those ads that serve up crazy old people losing their dentures or beating each other up with their canes for a laugh?

As Pat Sajak, host of “Wheel of Fortune,” points out in this publication, “Ageism is one of the last non-taboo prejudices left in the country.”

Words also perpetuate stereotypes, according to the book. It offers a list of obviously ageist terminology to avoid, such as “ancient,” “codger,” “coot,” “crotchety old man,” “fogy,” “little old lady,” and my favorite, “geezer.”

But the book also points out some nuances of language that may be construed as ageist. For example, the preferred language for people over 50 is “older adults” and not “seniors” or “elderly.” This cohort also dislikes the term “retiree.” Given the number of people actively working today into their 60s and 70s, that is understandable. They also give a thumbs-down to the word “senior citizen.”

Of course, caregivers in long-term care know all too well about the power of semantics. That is why they prefer the term “resident” to “patient." People live in nursing homes, not just receive medical treatment there.

Others in long-term care also like the word “community” instead of “facility” because of the latter’s clinical connotation. I have even been reproached for using the word “industry” in connection with long-term care. Some think it is a field more than an industry.

These are all examples of how we need to think twice before we use certain terms. Now I am going to wrap up this entry before I get old and senile—er, rather age and become cognitively impaired.

**Questions for readers: What language bothers you most comes when it comes to referring to seniors and long-term care residents? What terms do you recommend instead? E-mail me at liza.berger@mcknights.com with your thoughts.
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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.

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