Back on line, at least for the moment. September was a crazy month, but the dust should start to settle soon. I will be going to visit Lakeview Ranch in Darwin, Minnesota tomorrow, attending a fundraising dinner, and then speaking at St. Cloud State University with Dr. Richard Taylor on Friday. Lakeview Ranch, founded by Judy Berry, is a community for people living with dementia that has garnered praise for its compassionate, drug-free care. Judy just won an award from the RWJF for her efforts, (as I have blogged earlier).
The words “elder” and “elderly” are being tossed around in another iteration on http://www.changingaging.org, so I thought I’d cross it over to this post. There are many people who see the word “elderly” as a simple modifier for an old person, and don’t see why culture change advocates recoil at the word. Here is the reply I posted yesterday:
“While the word “elderly” COULD carry any connotation, the usual result in our society is that it suggests an image of a frail, broken, dependent person. The rather common usage, therefore, of a term that paints aging in such a negative light contributes to the negative image of older people that The Eden Alternative, ChangingAging and other culture change movements try to dispel.
“We are hoping that people will come to see elderhood as a distinct developmental stage–not purely defined by loss of physical ability, but rather a synthesis of life experiences into a form of wisdom and perspective not generally seen in younger adults. This is borne out by many studies that show older adults process information through a richer emotional and psychological tapestry.
“Word choice is all about neurolinguistic programming. Certain words can bias our view of people, and we choose a more positive language, in order to help us make the paradigm shift to a more positive view of aging.”
On the positive side, we have resuscitated the word “elder” and increased its usage in a society that has largely forgotten the term. We choose this word, as it comes from traditional societies where elders had positions of respect. Not only were they not excluded from mainstream society, their wisdom was valued and they were often sought for advice on matters both large and small. This fosters a more positive view of aging.
Beyond that, The Eden Alternative does not even assign a particular age range to an elder. We define the term as follows: “An elder is any person who, by virtue of life experience, is here to teach us how to live”. This includes our frailest elders, who teach us every day to be kind, compassionate and patient, and who show us how to create caring communities. It also encompasses younger people who, by virtue of their challenges, live a similar life experience to many of their older counterparts.
Some of the younger people who live in nursing homes reject the term “elder”, but often when you explain what an elder is in positive, developmental terms, they agree that they fit the bill!