By Theresa Pichelmeyer, Ed.D., RN, President & CEO, Valley VNA Senior Care

Caring for older people is an opportunity to celebrate diversity. As we hold more conversations about recognizing and valuing the different gifts and backgrounds of every person, older people are still often lumped into imprecise and over-generalized groups like “seniors” or “retirees.” True, this is shorthand for communicating a similar age group, usually people age 65 or older, but the talents, abilities, preferences, and personalities of this age group only expand from there.

I read an excellent quote from Ina Jaffe in The Atlantic a while ago. A reporter at NPR who covers aging, Jaffe said, “Older adults now have the most diverse life experiences of any age group. Some are working, some are retired, some are hitting the gym every day, others suffer with chronic disabilities. Some are traveling around the world, some are raising their grandchildren, and they represent as many as three different generations. There’s no one term that can conjure up that variety.”

We come to know older people when they choose to live in a senior living community or engage with home care workers so they can stay safe and healthy in their homes. We meet women who’ve raised big families and always worked from home, retired secretaries, pharmacists, and business executives, and long-time college professors, milkmen, and postal carriers. We come to know veterans, expert cooks and bakers, woodworkers, musicians, world travelers, immigrants, politicians, and speakers of multiple languages.

When it comes to direct caregiving, well-trained and experienced caregivers intentionally learn their residents’ and clients’ preferences. Family members especially comment on how we know and respect their loved one’s favorite conversation topics, preferred snacks and beverages, desire for an early (or late) bedtime, or even the need to get outside in the fresh air to garden or take a rickshaw ride. If an older person experiences anxiety, activities staff are engaged to help sooth them, from comforting music and lighting to aromatherapy and other calming activities that they enjoy.

There are so many reasons to celebrate older adults, and this diversity is one of my favorite things about my career in health care. The next time you have a chance to speak up for diversity, speak up for older adults. Then take time to listen to one of their stories—you’ll be wiser in the end.