It’s time to retire “Aging in Place”

by Jeff Weiss

I have come to learn and appreciate how much language can define and shape our lives.  The words we use can have a significant impact on both our business and personal lives and sometimes it is just a matter of changing a word or two that flips an idea or thought on its head and changes its impact – for good or bad.

This is true when it comes to the words and language associated with the idea of “aging”.  Aging is the process of getting older and, while it is inevitable (I am getting older as I write this blog post), most people don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about it. I refer to this as FOGO — Fear of Growing Older. People are generally more afraid of getting older than they are of dying, which is not that surprising given how society often portrays older people – and the idea of aging – in a negative light.

As older adults are able to maintain their vitality longer and live more active lives, the fears and angst associated with getting older are becoming less pervasive. Over time, I believe we will see a shift from a society that battles aging to one that embraces it. And a world where getting older is something to look forward to and not to be feared.  But we have a long way to go before we get there.

In the meantime, as we continue our journey to this new mindset, we need to start changing some of the language that doesn’t portray aging in the best light. This is especially true for marketers and businesses that are touting products and services that are made especially for “you” because you are old!  That is the kiss of death for most products as older adults don’t want to think about themselves as old people.  Just ask my 91 year-old mother who didn’t want anything to do with wearing a Personal Emergency Response System even after she had fallen and was barely able to get up!

One of the first areas that needs some new language is for a term that is getting increasingly more attention – “aging in place”.  I have had an issue with this term for years (I don’t think I am alone) and I am on a mission to change the language associated with it. I have two main issues with this phrase:

  1. As per the FOGO acronym I used above, people do not want to be reminded that they are getting older. And since aging = getting old, the thought of aging in place is a total turn-off.
  2. Doing something ‘in place’ infers an activity that is sedentary by nature. Older adults want to stay active and that means doing things that are not (necessarily) in one place. Coupled with the word “aging”, you might as well refer to this as “rotting in place” based on the message it is sending.

The question then becomes, what do we call this instead?  That is what we set out to determine. Based on a survey we recently conducted with our online insights community, Revolution55, we learned a few things.

Only 10% of our Revolutionaries chose “aging in place” as their preferred term. Flipping this around, 90% of Active Agers are clearly not aligned with this term.

Rising to the top of the list of preferred options was “Living at Home”, which had the highest appeal for more than a quarter (28%) of our Revolutionaries. It’s not surprising that this term was more popular as it combines the idea of being active (i.e., living) and not having to move into a senior’s community or an “old-age home”.

Second on our list, with 20% of the votes, was the term “Thriving at Home”.  This is my personal favorite as it takes the idea of living at home up a notch or two to living your best life in the comforts of your own home.

As more and more older adults are shunning the idea of moving out of their home anytime soon, marketers need to take note of the language they are using to sell their products and services to these consumers. It’s time to change the language around aging to something that is more desirable, aspirational and realistic for this highly valuable group.

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