Mind Your Language!

Media Release Wednesday 22nd April 2020

 

Mind your Language!

"Words Matter". Some advice for us all, including, print and broadcast media from IGS President, Dr. Diarmuid O’Shea 

 

The Irish Gerontological Society (IGS) is an all-Ireland interdisciplinary professional organisation which enables research, education and practice in the field of ageing.

Members of the IGS stem from the whole of Ireland, representing professions and disciplines involved in areas such as medicine, nursing, health and social care, policy, economics, the social and built environments and technology.

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Shielding and vulnerability of at-risk groups - including older people - during the COVID-19 crisis, has received wide ranging coverage in print and spoken media. 

On behalf of members of the Irish Gerontological Society (IGS), Dr. Diarmuid O’Shea, is campaigning for everyone, including producers, presenters and journalists to be mindful of their language and avoid the ‘euphemizing of age’ as we discuss and talk about this large, diverse, heterogeneous social group.  As older people in our society, along with many others, play their part by shielding themselves from COVID 19 - with the support of their local communities - we all need to understand that “words matter”. We must all learn to mind our language.  

Growing up and growing old is life, it is not always easy.  Neither is it a new concept.  Galen, writing over 2000 years ago, realized the importance of a healthy youth as a basis for robust old age - even then he noted the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet as a road to optimizing the “healthspan”. We have a real opportunity now to reframe and rephrase how we discuss and talk about ageing, look after people and support the ageing population in our country. 

Ageism in Ireland today is still a challenge which, unlike racism and sexism, is not countered.

Many concepts like bias, prejudice, tokenism, judgementalism and ageism can result in either overt or covert pigeonholing, stereotyping and discrimination against people for a variety of reasons.

Ageism in Ireland today is still a challenge which, unlike racism and sexism, is not countered.  There is almost an unspoken, accepted and normalized social prejudice around it.   The fastest growing demographic in Ireland is older citizens.  Ageism marginalizes and excludes these people, and it should not be allowed, accepted or tolerated.

The media takes great care to avoid stereotypes, for example in terms of ability, race or gender.  Dr. O’Shea, who is a consultant geriatrician at St. Vincent’s University Hospital, asks why age and ageing should not be given the same consideration and respect.  “Age is an important social issue and ageism is a serious problem.  In recent years, ageist terms such as ‘bed blocker’, which is both stigmastising and discriminatory, have become commonplace in media reports”, he said.   

“Euphemising usually positions ageing as negative and burdensome, often categorizing the entire demographic as frail, ill, or dependent.   I understand that this is often done thoughtlessly rather than intentionally.  This is both incorrect and inappropriate.  We all know many fit, active and vibrant older people, they are not a homogenous group.  ”

Dr. O’Shea is appealing to print and broadcast media, and their representatives, to familiarise themselves with terminology that is and is not ageist.

Dr. O’Shea continues, “Each year, the IGS receives over 350 research abstract submissions to its Annual & Scientific meeting.  Euphemisms for ageing or for older people, for example elders, seniors, and OAPs, are never used by practitioners, researchers or academics.”

What is the well-intentioned, respectful journalist to do?

The IGS recommends avoiding words and phrases that are or appear to be discriminatory, imply unnecessary connotations, or that group all older people together into any category.  Dr. O’Shea advises, “just use the neutral term, older people. The word ‘Elder’ is only appropriate as a modifier, as in ‘elderly patient’.  It should not be used as a general descriptor for all those in later life.”

Older people are just as diverse as younger and middle-aged people.  Findings of a study released recently by The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) highlight the enormous contribution that older people make to society in Ireland and to the economic fabric of Ireland, including enabling others to take part in the work force through their volunteering and caring.   We have however along way to go in valuing, embracing and supporting the success of our ageing population.  As a country we owe a lot to those who have gone before us (our parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and great and great-great grandparents).  While we need to recognize the important role all these people play in our lives and society today, we must also understand that we need to be better advocates for the requirements of all of us as we age.

“One of the lasting legacies of this pandemic may well be that Ireland finally wakes up to the worth of older people to our country.  We need to grow a collective and societal responsibility to show how we appreciate, value, consider and talk about older people, and getting our language correct is an important part of that.  There is no better time to start than now”, said Dr. O’Shea.

Dr. Diarmuid O’Shea, President of the Irish Gerontological Society 

Ends.

Dr. O’Shea is available for media interviews.  For further information please contact:

Miriam Ahern

Director of Partnerships and Philanthropy, Irish Gerontological Society.

E: Miriam.ahern@irishgerontology.com   M: 086 804 4595