No disrespect. Writing about older people

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Four years ago I started editing a website offering advice and shared experience for the family and friends of older people.

The content was a mile away from my usual diet of B2B and B2C marketing communications. And here was the problem. It required a completely different approach in the voice that we use.

Most of my “day-job” B2B clients want to appear professional and approachable without being over-friendly. They want to be enthusiastic without being over-zealous. And the B2C clients want a tone that defines their brand and appeals to consumer aspirations.

This project is quite different. There are plenty of topics here that come under the label of “eurgh”. We believe we can’t ignore them, so we approach at least some of them with a  dollop of humour. After all, it’s the grimaced smiles that get us through some of the darker days.

The trouble with the humour is that it has to sit alongside pieces that are just truly heart-rending, and we never want to offend or belittle the traumatic stories that some of our readers have to tell.

So we take it gently. We need to show respect to our readers who have volunteered to tell their stories of life with ageing and frail parents.

We always aim to be useful. We want our content to be  illuminating, enlightening and offer an opportunity to talk. We treat people’s stories and their pain with the honour they deserve. But when we have permission to smile and turn on the humour to get us through, we do.

How much do labels matter?

hands-typing-6In the three years that I’ve been writing in the “eldercare” community the thought behind use of language has changed significantly.

Perhaps the biggest change is that people who talk about “suffering from” a condition are chastised. We don’t suffer any more apparently – we live with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis and other diagnoses. This is part of a bigger trend to be more positive in our use of language. That’s a good thing, as long as we don’t use language to pretend a problem doesn’t really exist.

Take the issue of older people feeling that sometimes they are a burden to their family as their challenges grow. I’ve been castigated for the use of the word “burden”. That’s one I would argue about. We can’t stop using a term that people feel for themselves. It’s not really helpful.

On the other hand I was at a meeting of professionals in the care industry where someone suggested that it’s time we re-thought the word “care”. Why? Because it fills people with fear. They don’t want to see themselves as someone who needs care at home or even might have to retire into a care home at some stage. Much better I agree is to talk about providing people with “support” to continue living their lives as much as they can where and how they prefer.

Another one that makes sense is differentiating between “carers” and “caregivers”. The word carer tends to be used to cover all possibilities but professionally carers are people who are paid to provide services at home or in a care home. Caregivers can be thought of as all those family members and friends who provide support and help without payment.

Describing this population can be fraught with difficulty too, especially in a marketing sense. Want to be found? You probably need to use words like “old”, “elderly” and “eldercare”. Want to turn off your audience? Use those same words.

A good read: Words to use and avoid around dementia. Written by people living with the disease.