The first is “facility.” Especially when grouped with ‘assisted living’ or ‘continuing care,’ or ‘memory care.’
I’d always thought a facility is a place where things are made, or shipped from, or warehoused. Facilities are places for getting things done. Why do we apply the term ‘facility’ to describe places where older people reside?
Residences or homes are where people live. Like long-term care residences, or skilled-nursing homes. Coupling the word facility with places where many seniors reside contributes to the objectification of older people, that is, treating them as an object or thing.
Thanks to Dr. Bill Thomas, author of Second Wind and founder of the Eden Alternative, here’s a second unhappy word: ‘still.’
Synonyms for still include ‘even now’ and ‘in spite of everything.’ For example:
- “Is your Dad still driving?” or
- “You mean her mother is still working?” or
- “He still plays golf?”
Used this way, ‘still’ suggests that if someone, especially an elder, is working, or playing a sport, or driving a car, it is out of the ordinary. Even exceptional. Why should it be unusual when an 80 or 90-year old person runs 10K races or even marathons? The usage suggests that once you reach a certain age, you’re expected to become invisible and wait to die.
My third un-favorite word is ‘burden.’
Yes, I know most of us may become dependent on our children or other family members. But must that be construed as a burden? In some societies, caring for an elder is a privilege. An honor, even. Hardly a burden. And yet the popular view is that older people inevitably wind up as ‘burdens’ on their family…or society.
Terms like ‘facility,’ ‘still,’ and ‘burden’ suggest how many in America view seniors. Too often they are seen as excess baggage, complicated, perhaps slow, and too out of step to be taken seriously. If triangulation is the process of determining the location of a point, these words pinpoint a too common perception of how older people behave, relate to others, and how little is expected of them, (a-hem) us.
I’ve resolved to ban these words from my vocabulary when talking about seniors. Will you join me?
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