Reversing Disability in Old Age

  • Becca Levy
  • Ellen Langer
Part of the The Plenum Series in Culture and Health book series (PSCH)


In his autobiographical novel, House of God, medical resident Samuel Shem (1978) described the tendency of physicians in his hospital to call the old patients “gomers.” The term gomer (or “gome” for short), Shem explains, serves as an acronym for “Get Out of My Emergency Room.” The phrase implies than old patients will be annoying and that their health will inevitably decline with a variety of age-related complications. Although Shem wrote his novel in 1978, some hospital house staff still refer to people over the age of 60 as gomes. The doctors who use the term gome would defend themselves by pointing out that the term is said tongue in cheek and that they would never use the term in the hearing vicinity of an old patient. We will argue in this paper, however, that the use of the term represents a kind of thinking and behavior that has negative consequences for the health of old people.


Nursing Home Successful Aging Negative Stereotype Explanatory Style United States Bureau 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Becca Levy
    • 1
  • Ellen Langer
    • 2
  1. 1.Division on AgingHarvard Medical SchoolBoston
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridge

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