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April 28, 1978

'Involutional' vs 'Senile'

Author Affiliations

Indiana University School of Medicine Indianapolis

JAMA. 1978;239(17):1743. doi:10.1001/jama.1978.03280440027007

To the Editor.—  Howard Schatz, MD, suggested in his LETTER TO THE EDITOR (239:190, 1978) that the word "senile" be eliminated from our medical vocabulary. I agree wholeheartedly.In the past "senile" may have been an acceptable medical adjective since its strict and primary definition is "of, typical of, or resulting from old age,"1 but the secondary and etymologically more recent definition reflects more accurately the sense in which patients and their friends or relatives understand the word: "showing the marked deterioration often accompanying old age, esp. the mental impairment characterized by confusion, memory loss, etc."1 As Dr Schatz stated, "senile" has become a derogatory term; it is unpleasant and discouraging—if not outrightly offensive—to most patients.What should we use in place of "senile"? Dr Schatz suggested that we might say, for example, "maturity onset cataracts" or "cataracts of aging" rather than "senile cataracts." These alternatives are certainly improvements,