The 'F' Word (Facility) and Other Dirty Words in Retirement Living

How do you sound when you describe your retirement community to prospective residents, their children and the media? How do you talk about what you do with those people you are already serving?

Could the words you are using cast a less-than-positive image in a person’s mind, even though those words might be accurate?

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. What do you see in your mind’s eye when you hear these words: “Facility,” “Elderly” or “Admissions”?

Do these words connect in a positive way to the active, vibrant, older adult who is considering moving to your community? What about the people who are already there? 

Each of us conjures a unique mental picture upon hearing a spoken word. Unfortunately, the senior living industry is filled with “dirty” words and acronyms that conjure up unpleasant images or even confuse, alienate and offend people. Even the word “senior” itself may cause people to eliminate themselves from your prospect pool. 



These words serve to keep negative images about the aging process alive and can create emotional and communication barriers between our customers and ourselves. Perhaps it is time to eliminate those terms from our vocabulary and adopt an inclusive, universal language. Universal language isn’t about being politically correct; it is language that connects and appeals to the widest possible audience – without sacrificing accuracy or honesty. 

Here are some examples of “dirty” words and universal words you can use in their place.

“Dirty” Words  —>     Universal Words 

Facility   —>        Community, campus, neighborhood, establishment 

Aged/elderly/senior     —>       People, individuals, those aged 62 or better 

Semi-private       —>                Shared accommodation

Arts and crafts room  —>  Creative arts room, art studio, artists’ workshop

Beauty shop  —>           Hair salon

Tray service       —>                 Take-out, home delivery service

Bed      —>       Apartment home, accommodations, suite, residence

Bus  —>  Transportation services, coach, shuttle, chauffeur service

Care  —>    Service, amenity, attention, personal services

Dining room —>     Restaurant, café, bistro, or call it by name

Discharge   —>          Move-out, change residences, leave, go home, depart

Alzheimer’s unit   —>   Memory support area

Environment   —>    Atmosphere, ambience

Appointment        —>               Presentation, tour, meeting, visit

Fitness center     —>        Health club, gym

Admission      —>           Move-in

Gift shop    —>     Market, store, boutique, emporium

Nursing home     —>                 Health care center, skilled nursing center

Activities  —>   Recreation, cultural arts, events, hobbies, arts, education

Patient     —>        Person, individual, member, resident

Unit        —>               Home, residence, apartment home

“Dirty” words pop up all over the place – in presentations, writing, marketing materials and casual conversation. By replacing those alienating words with welcoming, universal language, you’ll ultimately help your facility (sorry for the “F” word, I meant community) grow and thrive.

5 comments about "The 'F' Word (Facility) and Other Dirty Words in Retirement Living".
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  1. Laura Bennett from BCO, June 23, 2014 at 10:08 a.m.

    Thank you! SO much needs to change in this industry and your suggestions are a start that I sincerely hope catches on. For years Del Webb was the leader in building single family homes for "55 or better" - and it seemed to have stopped there.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 23, 2014 at 10:36 a.m.

    Retirement homes are not the major problem. It is with elderly parents who refuse to go to "the home" to die. They don't want to leave their neighborhood even when they don't leave their home or know anyone anymore. Shared accommodations are dirty words no matter how you say it.

  3. Bob Wilson from Access Resources, June 23, 2014 at 12:34 p.m.

    Great lesson in language! I like the euphemism "apartment" because I have a relative who refused to go "The Home" (reference Paula Lynn comment). That term has had negative connotations since at least the Civil War ("old soldiers home"). Anyone got a better word? Can you get people excited and energized about this move?

  4. Jackie Stone from Varsity, June 23, 2014 at 5:14 p.m.

    I don't think you can get people energized and excited about moving to a nursing home, but when the need is there, they provide care that family members cannot. I think the best you can do is use words/terms like person-centered care, directing one's own care, autonomy, keeping control, etc., as long as those things are true.

  5. Martha Steger from Editorial Services, June 23, 2014 at 7:01 p.m.

    Two friends who moved to a high-end retirement community a decade ago got energized enough to write their annual Christmas letter from "Terminal House."

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