Welcome to the third edition of our monthly Age Allies blogs! These blogs are part of our new Age Allies project, which will see Age UK London work alongside businesses and other organisations to combat age discrimination in the capital. This month, Richard Norman looks at the phrase “senior moment” and wonders why the language we use to describe ageing is often so negative. You can also take a look at last month’s blog on Glastonbury and the perception of ageing here.
I don’t know when “senior moment” entered the British lexicon but it now seems to be the go to phrase when someone forgets something or makes a mistake of some kind. I have used it myself. Who amongst us can say they have not?
Let’s have a different kind of senior moment. Let’s think about what it means to get older and list the first five words that pop into your head. How many of these words could be described as positive? Maybe you squeezed in “Wise” or “Experienced”. If the first five words that popped in were all positive then you are well on your way to true enlightenment!
Were any of the following in your shortlist?
Forgetful. Dithery. Weak. Frail. Dependent. Despondent. Burden. Hopeless. Lonely. Neglected. Sad. Vulnerable. Sedentary. Depressed. Afraid. Worried. Victimised. Impaired. Feeble. Senile. Incompetent. Bitter. Complaining. Wrinkly. Helpless. Demanding. Prejudiced. Nosey. Selfish. Stubborn. Isolated. Recluse. Miserable. Boring. Slow.
Broadly speaking this list of words describes a generalised standard view of older people. The use of such negative language about older people is habitual and has become so mainstream, we hardly recognise we’re doing it. But the effects and consequences of our choice of vocabulary run deep. This socially ingrained ageism can become self-fulfilling as it repeats stereotypes of physical and mental decline, social isolation, and economic burden. There are only so many times you need to be told that you are helpless or dependent before you start to believe it.
The ‘illusory truth effect’ is if you tell someone something often enough, they eventually start to believe it. This can be a wonderful thing when used to reinforce positivity. But it can also be extremely damaging when you’re repeating words that constantly undermine.
What are the potential implications of such a negative image of ageing? If that is how we view moving on in years, and an older person enters into our world, how do you think our stereotypes will be reflected in our interactions with that older person? Ouch!
Let’s have another, alternative, senior moment!
What if we viewed ageing as a universal process, one that reflects an accumulation of experience, service and contribution? What if we accepted that some people face challenges in later life but that not all older people are the same? Do you think our engagement with older neighbours, friends, family, colleagues, clients and customers might be different?
Take a moment to look at the language we use, the birthday cards we buy, and the jokes we tell. Do they represent an image of ageing we want to grow into?
We have the power to define the kind of world we want to grow old in.
It only takes a senior moment.