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10 Ways Older Adults Are Disrespected

Updated on May 26, 2020
Cheryl E Preston profile image

Cheryl is a poet, freelance writer, author, and former newspaper columnist, with degrees in Psychology and Biblical Studies.

older couple dancing
older couple dancing

Do unto others

My grandmother used to say that the only way not to grow old is to die young. This is something that every person under 40 should think about. If you do not die you will one day be a senior citizen. You should consider how you would want to be treated at that age, and respect those that already have passed that milestone. Sometimes things are said and done that one does not realize is offensive. Other times people are simply mean spirited. Consider these 10 things you may not have considered as offending senior citizens, and then do unto them as you would have done for you should you reach their age. Just because people age does not indicate they no longer desire to dance and have fun, just like in their younger days. They should be able to go to the beach, parties, dances, etc. without being ridiculed.

1. Skip the old people jokes

I recently saw an episode of The Wendy Williams show where she was displaying two photos of Rosanne the actress. In one her pants fit loosely and in another she looked to weight a little less and her clothing was fitting her better. Wendy who is over 50 made the snide remark that perhaps in the first photo Rosanne was wearing a depend. The audience laughed but there is nothing funny about incontinence. This is a delicate matter and should be treated with respect. Jokes about wrinkles, sagging skin, dentures, canes, walkers and diapers etc. are very disrespectful. It is difficult enough for individuals who deal with these issues to attempt to have some dignity as they age. They do not need younger people cracking jokes as if the issues of older age are somehow to be mocked.

2. Stop the pet names

If you do not know the name of a senior citizen, please do not call them sweetie, honey, sugar, doll, sweet pea or baby. This is not endearing, but comes across as if you think they are some senile little old lady or man. It is no different than raising your voice because you assume that an elder person cannot hear as well as others.

Senior couple having fun
Senior couple having fun

3. Don't use disparaging titles

This may not seem like a problem when you are younger, but as you age, you resent being referred to as old people, elderly or the old folks. Senior citizen, seniors, older adults, or elders would sound much better. Calling someone an old geezer is even worse. Many people use the phrase "old geezers" which is about as low as you can go. Even if someone is aging rapidly and perhaps has a harsh temperament, no one has the right to disrespect them. In my opinion saying old geezer is the equivalent of calling a black person the N word. You are demoralizing a person because of what makes him or her different from you.

4.Turn away from disrespectful memes

Facebook is filled with memes that are supposed to be humorous but they actually are very disrespectful. Images of seniors falling down, trembling as they walk with canes, sagging boobs, drooping rear ends, and men whose private parts don't work are just plain mean. Laughing at images of older adults having trouble hearing, whose teeth come out or deal with problems regarding sex are not the way you should be entertaining yourself. These are real life issues for some just like cancer. No one would think of making fun of a cancer patient who lost weight, or their hair.

5. Stop saying the "old folks home"

No one wants to spend their final days in a nursing home so using this type of language can cause hard feelings. There is also the fact that there are a number of young people in long term care facilities. Again I say that if you live long enough you will age and what you say now may come back on you. When you say "old folks home" it denotes that all older people will end up spending their final moments of life in such a facility.

senior fun
senior fun

6. Don't talk down to seniors

Well meaning people often say things like, "Can I get the door for you sweetie" or "hello darlin, let me help you with that." The tone is always condescending, as if all senior citizens are frail. A good rule of thumb is to simply do a good deed without talking as if you are having conversation with a child. Hold the door open, carry a package, or help an older adult into their vehicle without the baby talk. If you pay attention you may find that some seniors are well able to do certain things for themselves and do not need as much help as another.

7. If you're not related, skip the slang

In African American culture there are slang words that are often directed at senior citizens. People who do not even know you will refer to men as unk, (for uncle) pops, old man, gramps, and sometimes boy. I've been referred to as Momee and auntie by people who I have never even see before. If you are not related, or a close friend then you don't have the right to use these names for anyone. it's not cute and it is disrespectful. Yes sir and yes maam will do just fine.

Seniors gathered
Seniors gathered

8.Churches should not demean older congregants

Churches often set up things that are specifically for seniors and then constantly talk about it. You may have heard a pastor say how his church really looks out for the older members by having a seniors luncheon, senior movie night, senior bingo, or special senior Bible study or exercise classes. As people age, they don't want the constant reminders that they are older. They really do not want to feel that they are being put out to pasture. I was the member of a church where the older Deaconess were told they could no longer serve communion to the congregation. One of them told me that she felt everyone should serve as long as they felt like it and that this hurt her feelings. This was basically telling these women that they were too old to function.

9. Don't criticize the slower driving of older adults

If the DMV renews a drivers license there obviously is a good reason. Even so, should you come across an older driver going a little slow, don't yell at them. This may simply be someone making sure they obey the rules of the road and don't cause a wreck. Careful drivers should be praised instead of criticized. No one argues that a senior takes too long in the grocery store, so why not allow them a few extra moments on the highway. Not all seniors can step up on a bus, or afford cabs, Uber and Lift. Not every older adult driving is a stubborn individual who should have given up their license decades ago. I can remember when I was young we might say someone was driving like Grandma Moses. Now that I am aging I understand better why aging adults take their time. I have seen drivers screaming at elders who were driving slow, shouting that they should get off the road. Now if someone really is driving recklessly and may cause an accident then they do need to rethink the situation.

older adults enjoying themselves
older adults enjoying themselves

10. Show compassion

There is such a lack of compassion and empathy for aging people today. Everyone will age differently and should be treated accordingly. Show a little compassion for older adults who may have trouble walking or seem to not be able to open a door. Lend a helping hand without offending. Those in their senior years who can still maintain, should be respected and not talked to as if they were invalids. Dignity and compassion go a long way. How would you like your mother, father, or grandparents treated? You can say good morning and lend a helping hand without using degrading phrases or making the person feel like they have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Cheryl E Preston


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    • carrie Lee Night profile image

      Carrie Lee Night 

      13 months ago from Northeast United States

      Thank you for sharing :) The only word I disagree with as offensive is "elderly". I use this term frequently, as it has always been, in my view, respectful. It derives from the word elder which means older. Tribes, churches and societies use the word elder as a sign of wisdom and it is held in a high regard. So how is, in your view this word disrespectful ? I can understand any word that can offend as you mentioned in this hub,a reminder of being older. I really do appreciate and respect you recognizing how the younger generation treats the older generation. I do strongly agree with the slow driver section. I am guilty of not being patient enough at times, but I dont tailgate like some others do as that would be disrespectful. I am in the medical field and it can be difficult when I want to help someone older and at the same time give them their indepedence. I love people and attempt a best effort to treat them with Godly eyes but sometimes I fail as I have a sense of humor and am human, neverthless, thank you for speaking out for them and caring for people :)

    • Cheryl E Preston profile imageAUTHOR

      Cheryl E Preston 

      14 months ago from Roanoke

      Thank you

    • OGUNDARE OLUSEGUN profile image


      14 months ago from NIGERIA


    • Linda Courtney profile image

      Linda Courtney 

      14 months ago from Bloomsburg, PA

      You are so correct with the article. I have heard and seen all of this many times in life. I've learned to just accept people's ignorance and insensitivity and move on. It's sadly become the norm. Personally I don't mind the church's senior activities as there are times when I would much prefer the company of my fellow seniors. But they shouldn't tell them to stop communion or any other work they do because of their age. That is ageism.

    • Cheryl E Preston profile imageAUTHOR

      Cheryl E Preston 

      14 months ago from Roanoke

      Yes that’s true

    • revmjm profile image

      Margaret Minnicks 

      14 months ago from Richmond, VA

      Cheryl, some people say, "You good look for your age." It would be nice if they would leave "for your age" off the statement.


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