Using Common Language Can Assist in Opening Doors to Aging Services
Posted on July 7, 2022 by Libbie Chapuran
As part of the Opening Doors to Aging Services Initiative, our national partner, LeadingAge, has developed a research-based language guide intended to be used as a resource to aid in understanding aging services’ depth and breadth.
It also offers guidance to promote accurate, unbiased, and inclusive communication about this ubiquitous yet relatively unknown and often mischaracterized field.
By using common language, we can help the public better understand the broad range of care and service providers available to meet the needs of older adults and their families. Based on extensive market research, the language guide addresses some of the most commonly confused terms and services.
Suggested Language for Referring to Organizations
Consider using the words “sector” or “field” instead of “industry" or "market." Because the term "industry" or "market" implies for-profit entities, the term is not appropriate for the aging services sector, which includes thousands of nonprofit providers and for-profits nationwide. Using "sector" or "field" is more accurate and appropriate.
Use the words "mission-driven" or "organization" instead of "company" or "business." If applicable, use the word "nonprofit." Many aging services providers are nonprofit organizations or mission-driven care and service providers. Research suggests that the distinction between nonprofit and for-profit providers is important to consumers when seeking aging services.
Finally, consider using the words “communities” or “residences” instead of “facilities” or “institutions” or “buildings.” Terms such as “facilities” or “institutions” imply that nursing homes and other residential aging services settings are akin to a factory or prison. Instead, use language that denotes that these are places where people live, such as “residences” and “communities.”
Suggested Language for Referring to People
The Opening Doors research suggests we should use the term “older adults” when referring to those we serve instead of “the elderly” or “the aged.” It is considered more respectful and less “othering” than phrases such as “the elderly,” which implies frailty.
Consider using the terms “caregiving professionals” or “professional caregivers” INSTEAD OF “care workers” or “unskilled workers.” To accurately portray professional caregivers—who are paid, skilled, trained, and frequently certified—and to distinguish them from informal or family caregivers, describe these individuals as “caregiving professionals” or “professional caregivers.”
Suggestions For Referring to Aging Services
To refer to the services you provide, use the term “aging services” instead of “elder care” or “aged care” Describing the field using ageist terms such as “elder care” suggests that consumers of aging services are only the frailest. Additionally, "aging services" encompasses a wide range of services and supports, from minimal at-home help to residential-based medical care. Note: The aging services sector provides a continuum of care and service options for older adults in a range of settings, including adult day services, affordable housing for low-income older adults (senior housing), meals programs, assisted living, home health and home care, hospice, life plan communities, nursing homes, senior centers, villages, etc. When referring to aging services broadly, use "aging services," "aging services sector," or "field of aging services." When referring to a subset of the sector, be specific.
More About Opening Doors to Aging Services
Opening Doors to Aging Services is a national-local initiative to introduce the aging services sector to Americans and positively shift perceptions. Watch this short overview video and explore the research, communications strategies, and other assets on OpeningDoors.org. Also, check out these QuickCasts and workshops to help tell an authentic story of aging services and move perceptions positively with Opening Doors.