Choosing the Right Words to Accompany Ageing

Choosing the Right Words to Accompany Ageing

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La Fondation Korian pour le bien-vieillir  has conducted a survey on old age with 1,000 French people aged 25 to 65. The outcome of the survey is that certain terms used to talk about our elders may be perceived as reductive, too general or even discriminating.

Identifying this semantic field will help choose the words recommended to give positive values to old age. A lexicon expressing empathy, inclusion, consideration and care is recommended by the survey.

Dependence is often envisaged as falling into the « last part of life ». To avoid this worrying feeling, it would be preferable to put aside any phrases expressing a break such as « third age » or « dependent people » and replace them with a term encompassing a whole period of life such as « elders ». It would also be preferable to use active verbs such as « staying » at home in lieu of « maintaining » at home. Or an expression such as « he needs help » to get up rather than « he can no longer » get up.

Inclusive terms that express the free will of the person concerned should also be preferred such as the « refusal » to take part in an activity rather than the « opposition », « welcomed » in a retirement home rather than « admitted ».

The medication or medical vocabulary should also be used with care as it is a source of concern and sometimes of misunderstanding. Additionally, mental decline scares more than physical affections : dementia is feared more than cancer, for example. Less absolute phrases should also be used such as « cognitive impairment » rather than « dementia » or « loss of independence » rather than « dependent » to be less alarming and valorize the health condition of the elders. It is also recommended to use caring terms such as « taking care of oneself » and « being supported » to privilege the idea of ageing well.

185 Words Assessed by 1,000 French People

The 185 words in the survey were selected among the terms used daily to talk about old age, illness, residents in long-term care facilities and patients. The language was assessed using a method that measures perception, by a panel of French people and professionals working in long-term care facilities. The objective of the survey was to define « the right words for the future », to better refer to, and qualify: older people, ageing, dependence, jobs and practices.

The words tested got an average of 6 out of 10, which shows mixed feelings as to the vocabulary generally used to speak about ageing. The French are worried about ageing and dependence, and not reassured by the terms usually used to talk about it: they can be too technical, not properly understood or sometimes shocking.

The survey was organized by Médiascopie in partnership with Notre Temps, a French magazine for seniors.

A summary of the study can be found here (French language) : Les mots du bien vieillir, Fondation Korian