What is age besides a classification? When do we become old? What language is used in relation to people who reach certain points in their life cycle. Does a child become an adult at 18? Legally perhaps but in a sense these are rough brush strokes which relate in very different ways to different people. When do we stop being ‘young’ and start being ‘middle aged’? When do you move towards being ‘old’?
I’ve had growing feeling over the past years really, that our society does not value older people. Just yesterday, I received a wonderful application form from a potential student social worker. It was a positive picture of a hardworking and ethically sound potential practitioner. It warmed my heart.
But the student, although careful to detail their work with people with disabilities and children with special needs, felt that it was entirely appropriate to comment alongside this that they had worked with ‘the elderly’.
I presume this wasn’t discussed or mentioned by tutors at the university but it made me wonder how ‘the elderly’ has become more acceptable than ‘the disabled’.
I will put my hand up at any accusation of oversensitivity. I am acutely aware of the importance of language vis a vis power. I am also aware that language shapes thoughts and reflects thought processes. If that makes me politically correct, I am proud to reclaim that label as a badge of honour.
Maybe in a society that needs to compartmentalise obsessively, it becomes more important to define someone by their age rather than their humanity but it also made me question what we mean by ‘elderly’ or ‘older people’.
Are we merely describing someone who has reached a certain age? I have worked in older adults services for a long time and some have called themselves ‘older adults’ and others ‘over 65s’ teams as a way of providing a context of age.
I read so many stories in the papers about the ‘problem’ of an ageing society and the costs of managing more dementia in society and it saddens me that age becomes another negative label and a problem for the wage-earning society to ‘deal with’. Perhaps that is the key to the perceptions that we have.
It’s natural that our perceptions of age and what ‘old’ is change with time as we and our parents, colleagues and friends move into ‘older age’ and it becomes less of an us and them type discourse and it becomes more personal.
I wonder why we, why society demands we differentiate between disabilities which are ‘age related’ and conclude that it is predominantly a cost issue. Social Security is determined by how economically productive someone is or could potentially be and when someone is past ‘working age’ their needs for social interaction and stimulation must automatically decrease?
Where is the ‘personalisation’ in the determination of Disability Living Allowance as opposed to Attendance Allowance. Look at the differences in those names.
Disability LIVING Allowance is paid to adults of working age (and children). Attendance Allowance is paid to those who are over 65. To be ‘attended to’ or ‘dealt with’. Not to live. Independent Living Fund monies were always restricted to those up to 65 (ok, now they are being wound down but the idea behind them was age-biased).
I wonder how much the Equality legislation will help? Perhaps it will but mostly I will only notice a difference when I stop seeing the ‘problem’ of an ageing population referred to and blame being assigned to people on the basis of their age.
As for me, I’m still deciding whether to raise the language issue with the potential student in their first interview with me or whether it might be something that needs some time to work on..
‘The Elderly’ No, I don’t like that. Not at all.