ICAA’s Guidelines for effective communication with older adults


Words and phrases


There are many opinions on appropriate and inappropriate words. Professionals and older adults may have different opinions on what is the best term to describe people of various ages. An important consideration is that people in their 50s and 60s may not like a word that people ages 85 years and older do prefer. It is always best to define the target audience before finalizing wording.


Words and phrases to avoid:

Codger, geezer, and similar

“he looks good for his age”
“despite her age....”
“even older adults can...”
“is active even at that age...”


Words and phrases to avoid or use sparingly:

Senior (may be appropriate for people 70 years or older in certain circumstances)
Senior (considered old-fashioned and stereotypical: is never appropriate for people at approximately 65 years and younger)
Golden, silver
Golden agers
The elderly (may be used for a group, eg, concern for the elderly)
Elderly (do not apply to an individual)
Senior citizens
Retiree (do not use as a noun; more accurate is “people who are retired”)
Middle age (do not use as a noun: more acceptable is “people in middle age”)
Third age (this term is not widely recognized)


Preferred words and phrases:

Adults ages 60 and older
People ages 55 and older
People with dementia
People in middle age

Aging adults
Older adults
Older persons
Older people
Older patients
Older population
Prime time
Experience, experienced
Mentor, coach


Words and phrases that are accepted by some groups and rejected by other groups:

Elder (respected term in some cultures, used for the older age groups)
Frail, frailty (used and defined in research and government; inappropriate in other communication unless it is defined explicitly)
Mature, maturity (may be perceived as old-fashioned and overly neutral)
Baby boomer (people in this age cohort do not consider themselves babies)


Next: Age cohorts


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