From that headline, if you immediately thought of likely words, such as “old fogey” or “geezer,” you would be right, but those are too obvious. A recent study reported on McKnights.com looked at more subtle words or terms that older adults often find offensive. The survey asked 1,114 participants how they felt about the language that is most often used to describe seniors and senior living. The author is a marketing company executive who conducted the study.
Marketing companies strive to use words that are engaging and attention-grabbing without being controversial or offensive, often using focus groups to gauge potential public reaction to ideas and words. This survey’s respondents were in two age groups – 50 to 59 (35%) and 60 to 69 (40%) and while there were different responses from the groups, many were in consensus. For example, almost all surveyed agreed that “nursing home” had the worst negative reaction.
Other words and terms that were viewed unfavorably were “retirement home,” to which 48% had a negative reaction. By comparison, “retirement community” had a more positive response with only a 13% negative vote. The survey gleaned that anything with “home” is too much like “nursing home.”
Although they didn’t react negatively, a surprising 44.2% of those surveyed thought “senior living” and “retirement community” were outdated terms. One term, “baby boomer,” received a strong 71% positive reaction. The study’s staff found that people have favorable reactions to “living” and “community,” surmising that “everyone wants to belong to a community.”
But there are broader applications than marketing for measuring a target group’s response to provocative language. Caregivers, family members and professionals who work with older adults may want to take a harder look at the words they are using.
The author shared a remark from person in a LinkedIn group, “When asked at a conference what seniors like to be called, he said, ‘Their names!’”