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Notes on medical terminology: elderly and older people

Added by: Владислав Банников
March 22, 2024

👨🏻‍🦳👵🏽🧓🏾 The world's population is aging, and this means more texts about older people for medical translators and writers. Wait. Does 'older' mean elderly, senior, or senile? Let's figure it out.

The age group classification by the World Health Organization (WHO) is frequently mentioned online (60–74 — elderly, 75–89 — senile, 90+ — long-livers), but this classification cannot be found on the WHO website. Today, the WHO Ageing Data Portal uses 60+, 70+ and 80+ categories. 

According to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), like ‘aged’, ‘elders’, ‘elderly’, 'senile', or ‘senior’ are considered inappropriate. They suggest referring to all people over 65 as 'older adults' and using specific age or age ranges instead of the old labels. Exceptions are made considering cultural norms (e.g., tribal elders).

What about 'fragile'? In medical context, this term refers to health status, not to age and is applicable even to children.
Example from Law Insider: "Medically fragile means the condition of a child who requires 24-hour skilled care from a healthcare professional or specially trained staff in a group care setting. These conditions might be persistent or frequently occurring. Interruption or denial of the necessary support and services could result in immediate health complications, possibly leading to death. The medically fragile population includes people with a disability due to a health impairment, such as those with cancer, diabetes, heart conditions, AIDS, and other illnesses if the illness substantially affects a major life activity."

Lastly, the World Health Organization declared the period from 2021 to 2030 as the Decade of Healthy Aging. The full WHO proposal with definitions of relevant concepts can be downloaded from their official website in six languages.

Do you want to grow as a medical translator and keep track of the evolving terminology? Enroll into my course Pharmacology for Translators and Interpreters at TranslaStars. I will guide you through foundational terms and concepts, ensuring you are well-equipped to translate drug-related materials for healthcare providers and their patients.


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