An opinion

We have labels for every stage in life: baby, child, adolescent, teen, young adult, middle aged, mature adult, elderly. I don’t like labels. I did not like being called “kid” when I was 9, and now, as I’m on the down slope to “three score and ten,” I don’t care much for “elderly” either.

But we are concerned with aging and as such is not our population of interest the elderly? I think not.

Being elderly is a label, a judgment, a condition, a state… what? Let’s say it is at least a label.

Now, how about aging? Aging is not a label. It is a process. My aged cheese is six months old, not sixty years old. But aged cheese is akin to aging in people. An aged cheese has changed over time. Its chemical and structural make up has evolved. So to with us. As soon as we are born, we have cells that are maturing and dying to be quickly replaced by new cells. Thus, we begin to age from birth.

So, aging is not a label and it affects all of us. I like that.

Now, what about the term geriatrics, as in East Texas Geriatric Education Center-Consortium?  The American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging defines it as, “Geriatrics is the branch of medicine that focuses on health promotion and the prevention and treatment of disease and disability in later life”  (

They sort of dodge the bullet by saying “later life,” but as one looks over web sites dealing with geriatrics the focus is always on older people, and rarely on the processes of aging which actually occur across the life span.

This is my conclusion. Aging deals with the changes in organisms over time and thus our audience, the audience of the ETGEC, is everyone. For example, the number of elderly people who have gum disease and oral cancers is somewhat dependent on the extent to which young children get good preventive oral care.

I expect that most of our educational programs will focus on wellness and disease processes in older adults with a number of activities focused on the frail elderly and hospice care. Areas of life where we cannot escape the label of elderly. I just want to keep in mind that we are actually involved with a process, from birth to grave, a process of change and evolution.

Somewhere in here we might consider the value of the label elder as opposed to elderly. I still do not like labels but maybe being an elder of the tribe has utility and might be considered.