By Mike Ferguson, Presbyterian News Service 

The Rev. Dr. Keith Albans, who served 16 years as the director of Chaplaincy and Spirituality at Methodist Homes in the United Kingdom, is something of a wordsmith. His prodigious abilities were on display during a webinar, “It’s How You Say It: Exploring the Language and Imagery of Aging,” put on by University of Waterloo’s Conrad Grebel University College in January 2024.

“How we speak of who we are and who we were reflects how we are feeling,” he said. Statements like “I’m just a housewife” or “I was a chemist” indicates “our entire life is in the past.”


Then Albans launched into a study of words containing the consecutive letters “age.” Some—“ageism” and “ageing,” the British spelling—have a negative value, Albans pointed out, while others, including “agelong” and “ageless,” are more affirming.

“Agent” was on the list because “enabling people to be the doer is at the heart of a lot of what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “Agency” is also a “significant concept.” So is “agenda,” Latin for “the things that must be done,” which Albans called “a positive way of embracing the process of aging” because we “think about what’s important for me and us to do.”

“How important,” Albans asked, “is the notion of agency for your own hopes about aging or for someone you know? Many of today’s older people never expected to live to the age they have. Embracing aging means we can think in a wider and more proactive way.”

“What do we affirm and what do we reject thinking about how we speak about and depict ageism?” he asked. “Embracing aging means we can be agents of our own aging by having a plan or agenda. The choice is ours, and how we use it is up to us.”

During a question-and-answer session following his talk, Albans was asked what people can do to combat language that’s ageist.

“If we look at ways society has addressed issues around racism, sexism, and homophobia, change has only come by calling it out for what it is,” he said. “The difference, of course, is we are talking about ourselves.”

“Some ageism,” he said, “is actually a way of saying, ‘I’m not there yet.’ We have to be honest if we’re calling it out. We may be as guilty ourselves as other people are. That’s why talking about it is helpful. We can plot our own course into later life.”

Citing something she once heard, one person attending the event said it this way: “Age is simply the number of years the world has been enjoying you.”

This article originally was published on the PC(USA) website. It was reprinted with permission in the 2024 Older Adult Ministry Planning Guide.