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Boomers say no to 'old'

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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They practically invented the generation gap and didn't trust anyone over 30. But now the inevitable is happening: Baby boomers are staring 60 in the face.

So what are we supposed to call a generation that once sang about hoping to die before it got old?

Seniors? Elders? Active adults?

''When you know, tell me,'' says Hugh Delehanty, editor in chief of AARP Publications.

In just two years, the 78 million boomers, born in the postwar years of 1946 through 1964, will begin hitting their 60s.

And AARP, the nation's largest advocacy group for those 50 and older, is wrestling with the name game in an effort to attract those older boomers as well as retain its foothold in the 60-plus world.

''Retired'' is going out of style as people work longer. In 1998, the American Association of Retired Persons changed its name to the stand-alone acronym.

''Mature'' seems antiquated. AARP's magazine used to be called Modern Maturity, but now it is simply AARP Magazine.

And these days, the publication refers to its constituency as ''older.'' AARP skirts the question entirely when it comes to its annual convention, which drew 25,000 people this year. That gathering was dubbed ''Life @ 50+''.

Some boomers prefer the euphemistic ''active adult.'' (How old is that?) And some are even jokingly referring to themselves as ''geezers,'' trying to lay claim to a negative word in the same way that the gay community has reclaimed ''queer.''

There's the old standby ''senior citizen,'' but many fiftysomething boomers don't feel as if the term applies to them.

'' 'Senior' is disappearing,'' Delehanty says.

''I hate even saying the word,'' says Candace Kelley, who coordinates services for a retirement community in South Haven, Miss.

Kelley, a mere 34, was having a hard time attracting older boomers to her programs until she figured out the problem: Using ''senior'' was like posting a ''Boomers Not Welcome'' sign.

She changed the literature, and voil, boomers started coming.

''Instead of 'senior aerobics,' it's now 'ageless fitness,' '' Kelley says. ''Instead of 'Seniors day at Chick-fil-A,' it's 'Breakfast and bingo at Chick fil-A.' I am now attracting several in their 50s.''

The struggle with their parents' language might reflect boomers' struggle with the whole concept of aging and how older people are treated, especially in this culture.

Reared on Bob Dylan and Dr. Spock, boomers have protested the status quo since the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

''Boomers are going to change the way we think about the aging process and how we treat people over 65,'' says Steve Gillon, author of Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever, and How It Changed America. ''The terminology we use is just a symptom.''

Says Linda Stoddart, 56, a retired state worker in Laughlin, Nev.: ''We're a force of nature. We shouldn't need a name because everyone knows us. From the moment of our births, we have been an identifiable group. It's almost like we don't have to explain ourselves anymore. We simply are.''

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.


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