Minding our language on ageing


A chara, – Can I respectfully suggest Sean O’Sullivan (June 21st) re-reads the insightful piece “Careless talk costs lives – mind your language on ageing” (Health + Family, June 20th) by Prof Des O’Neill, a national lead on positive ageing?

The word “elderly” labels older people as being infirm, frail and dependent. It is most definitely a judgment and labels an entire cohort of people, based on age, in a negative light.

Instead, “older adult” is factually descriptive and confers no judgment.

It’s not unfair to say that society in general considers all people 65 years and older as “elderly”. In reality, there is a lifetime between a 65-year-old person and a 90-year-old person.

As an example, on an occasion where I attempted to prescribe a walking aid to a 90-year-old patient, I was very pointedly told “That’s for the elderly”. I hope the irony is not lost.

Quality of life is not age-dependent. We must not use fearful and negative language such as “bed blockers”, “tsunami of ageing”, and “elderly” in our everyday language in healthcare and the media, which only undermines everyone’s ability to age optimally. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Age is but a concept. Some are old at 40, others young at 70. As an “old stager”, I think we are getting far too touchy about what to call the later years of life. I have no problem at all with being called “elderly”.

Any other term is but “gilding the lily” – albeit “senior citizen” indicates earned respect, while “the golden years” conjures up a distant El Dorado, stretching into a hazy, happy future.

Being referred to as “elderly” is far more acceptable than “no spring chicken” or, worse still, being “long past it” – whatever the “it” may be! – Yours, etc,



Co Westmeath.

Sir, – I agree with Sean O’Sullivan (June 21st) about the unfair criticism of everyday descriptive words that are now deemed to be offensive. I’m 58 years old (the word police and PC brigade would probably prefer me to use the term “young”) and am not in the least offended when someone describes me as middle aged; nor will I take umbrage if someone describes me as old, elderly, or a senior citizen if I’m lucky enough to live that long.

To demand that we stop using these descriptions is a denial of biology – we’re born, are all too briefly young, then we grow old and die – so let’s stop focusing on pointless issues that are a smokescreen to divert attention from the lack of adequate services for our ageing population. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 2.