Home-based care providers may need to rethink how they refer to their baby boomer clients, as many have rejected traditional labels describing older adults in favor of more inventive alternatives.
Indeed, the widely accepted tag of “senior” seems to be on its way out, along with other labels such as “aged” or “elderly,” which never really caught on in the first place. Baby boomers, a counterculture generation looking to cement a new generational identify in their post-retirement years, is largely responsible for the shake up, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.
Instead of being seen as senior citizens, some baby boomers prefer to be called “perennials,” for example. Although none have become particularly popular at this point, other potential new terms include “vintage” and “golden ager” as well.
Those who identify as a perennial even include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
With all the options, knowing what to appropriately call older adults can be challenging for home-based providers. One possible solution for avoiding labeling problems is to keep the relationship professional, according to Molly Carpenter, a gerontologist at Home Instead Senior Care, a national home care franchise company based in Omaha, Nebraska.
“We refer to the people we care for as clients,” Carpenter told Home Health Care News. “We feel it is a more dignified term than ‘patient’ and emphasizes that we are there to support the older adult on their aging journey.”
Edina, Minnesota-based in-home care services provider Lifesprk also leans on words such as “clients” and “people” versus “seniors” or “elderly.” It’s all about treating individuals with respect and dignity regardless of age, Matt Kinne, vice president of population health for Lifesprk, told HHCN.
“This is really about a new generation of people wanting to be defined for more than their growing age,” Kinne said. “People are living longer lives and want to be active and vibrant, so it’s understandable that they don’t want to be labeled a senior citizen.”
In addition to the home care and home health industries, terminology around aging has also long been a hot topic among senior housing providers. Some companies have already re-branded to move away from the word “senior” toward more neutral or aspirational names, such as Pathway Senior Living becoming Pathway to Living.
Generational labels, which cover people from different social, economic and cultural background, are inherently imprecise and constantly evolve, according to WSJ.
The moral of the story: Providers need to be flexible with the language they use to interact and describe the people they serve, according to Carpenter. Providers needs to understand that the terms they use now will continue to change in the next few years, she said.
“The baby boom generation has made a habit of changing culture and will undoubtedly change the terminology we use in our business and as a society,” Carpenter said.
Written by Robert Holly with additional reporting by Tim Mullaney