Study: Older Adults Don’t Want to Be Called “Elderly”

In this article...
  • A survey of adults over 65 uncovers which terms and media portrayals of older people are the most offensive. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “elderly” is not a preferred term.

If you refer to your parents or grandparents as “elderly,” you may want to reconsider. 

A study conducted by writers at examined the terms that older adults find the most offensive when used to describe their age cohort. The study found that the word “elderly” was less than popular among the demographic. In fact, 57% of respondents, who were all 65 and over, disliked being called the term. Just 21% had a favorable view of the word. 

But while “elderly” was generally disliked, it was far from the worst. “Geezer” was disliked by 70% of the respondents, followed by “ancient,” “blue hair,” “geriatric,” “old-timer” and “cougar” as all being more offensive than “elderly.”

55% even took offense to being called “old.” Only 19% disliked being called “senior.”

Women were found to be more likely than men to be offended by any of the terms used in the study, which also included terms such as “silver fox,” “grandma or grandpa” and “retiree.” 

Many Older Adults Don’t Like How They’re Portrayed on TV

It wasn’t just certain terminology that the survey respondents found offensive. Some popular characterizations of older adults on television or in movies also don't sit well.

Among the more offensive portrayals were the kooky conspiracy theorist or culturally insensitive senior, the scatterbrained senior, the technologically illiterate senior, the impolite senior and the senior playing bingo. 

Also found to be offensive were the shrinking senior, the stubborn senior and the sleepy senior. The naughty senior, cute little senior, the cool old guy or gal and the athletic senior were found to be offensive only to a minority of respondents. 

When asked which aspect of senior lifestyle should be portrayed more commonly in advertising and popular culture, 61% of respondents said they want to see more of a focus on “intellectual stimulation, learning new things and taking on new hobbies.”