Out With the Old?

In a culture infatuated with newness, our seniors are being cast aside.

“A 108-year-old woman has died after it was claimed she starved herself to death because she was unhappy about moving to a new care-home.

“The family of Alice Knight said she lost the will to live and stopped eating after the move …” (bbc, July 2).

Mrs. Knight’s story, headlined in the British press, attracted public attention to a whole host of issues affecting the old. More specifically, it acted as a war-cry to those caught up in Britain’s present debacle over old-peoples’ homes.

Britain’s System in Tatters

In a classic case of ideals not meeting the penetrating glare of the real world, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s innovative policy of standardizing care-homes and services to the elderly is failing abysmally.

Said the Daily Telegraph, “Funding problems besetting the sector … led to the closure of nearly 800 residential and nursing homes in the past year alone … with pensioners paying a terrible price as their health suffered. New minimum standards, including larger rooms and single occupancy from 2005, had only exacerbated the problem caused by a shortage of public cash. There was a warning of worse to come last night as care-home owners responsible for more than 70,000 beds in England and Wales said they were considering closing their doors to new council-funded residents from Christmas” (July 2).

All this comes at a time when the “demand for new places is surging on the back of increasing longevity and the concomitant growth in frailty as more and more people reach extreme old age” (Sunday Telegraph, July 7).

Said journalist Christopher Booker, “The essence of this human tragedy is that it has represented a heartless and unscrupulous victory by social services departments, who have waged war on privately-run care-homes on the ideological grounds that their owners make a (usually pitifully small) living from them. The social workers have done this partly by overloading homes with ever-more costly bureaucratic requirements which have little connection with genuine care, then by starving the homes of the funds that would keep them viable. …

“I have had hundreds of letters over the years from home owners and former owners testifying as to how they had been persecuted by self-righteous social workers. Nothing has struck me more than to realize there are good-hearted people for whom looking after the elderly in their last years is a genuine vocation. It is precisely such dedicated people who have been most grievously affected by their heartless treatment by officials” (ibid.).

A Very Real Problem

This present crisis over the senior citizens in Britain raises many serious questions.

The problem of how to correctly cater for the elderly’s needs isn’t exclusive to Britain. The world’s changing demographic balance poses the same dilemma globally, in a host of different forms.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of elderly—those over 65—in the world is increasing by some 9.5 million a year.

It’s not just a matter of numbers, either. Old people are increasingly living longer. Japan heads the longevity league, slightly in front of other developed nations. The average person in Japan can presently be expected to live 81 years, compared with 52 in 1947.

Time Almanac 2002 gives more startling statistics: “The number of Americans aged 65 and older climbed above 34.6 million in 1999, compared with 3.1 million in 1900. For the same year, the ratio of elderly Americans to the total population jumped from one in 25 to one in eight. The trend is guaranteed to continue in the coming century as the baby-boom generation grows older. Between 1990 and 2020, the population aged 65 to 74 is projected to grow 74 percent.”

Over the last three decades, couples in Europe have been having fewer children. There is now a dramatic imbalance of people reaching retirement age in society. How will the cost of this flood of people on retirement be met? What type of care can and should be guaranteed, given the general changing trend in the balance of age toward the elderly?

In some countries, such as Thailand, where there are more old people than working young, there are no immediate answers. Many democracies, like the United States and Spain, are already spending the present working generation’s pension savings on the previous generation. This means that the pensions this generation of workers get when they are pensioners will depend on the social security savings of their children, and so on, as long as there are enough funds to go round.

Just as serious is the rotten deal the elderly are getting in society, and the way they are often mistreated, primarily in Western nations such as the U.S. and Britain.

There is plenty of documentation of mistreatment and abuse within the care system itself. “Of the estimated 550,000 cases of elder abuse in the United States each year, only a small number are reported. … Reports of elder abuse, a problem largely unrecognized until the 1980s, increased by 150 percent between 1986 and 1996, when there were nearly 71,000 substantiated reports of elder abuse or neglect. … Victims typically have meager financial resources, particularly in cases where the elderly person is abandoned. Most elder abuse cases happen in domestic settings …. Because they typically depend on the abuser for care, they are often unwilling to report the abuse to anyone.

“The majority of reported abusers (47 percent) are the children of the elderly victims, followed by spouses (19 percent) and grandchildren (9 percent)” (Patient Care, Oct. 30, 2000).

Such vicious aggression against old people is not limited to the family unit. It has long spread to society, worse than any period in history. Old people are considered easy targets and are regularly robbed and mugged. Sometimes horrendous cases of teenagers and adults abusing older people physically or psychologically reach the headlines of our newspapers: “Widow, 84, Mugged on Doorstep for Tuppence” (Telegraph, July 13); “Burglar Slays Man in One Apartment, Then Kills Elderly Couple Downstairs” (New York Times, June 13); “Unreported Abuse Found at Nursing Homes” (New York Times, March 3).

Sociologists have now invented an official term for hate and discrimination directed against the elderly: ageism.

Why the Elderly Get No Respect

The U.S. and Britain have sunk to such a lamentable moral low that the majority of less developed, even primitive societies demonstrate more respect for the elderly than we do. Aborigines pay great respect to old persons. The whiter a teacher’s hair in China, the more honor he receives. In Japan, it is considered a natural duty of the family to care for grandparents in their old age. In Middle European countries, one of the offspring traditionally stays at home to care for the aging parents. Grandparents take a leading role in instructing the young in the Bantu tribe of Kenya. Young Arabs will tell you that there is no greater disgrace than to abandon the old. Even in the U.S., there are proportionately few Latinos in old people’s homes.

What has happened to the West?

There was a time, not so long ago, that peoples’ lives were generally more enlaced within the family structure and tied to one geographical location, enabling the family, together and as a unit, to witness the full cycle of life—from babyhood right through to old age. All ages, from the youngest to the oldest, were held together under the protective family wing.

If a person became invalid through old age, the younger members of the family would bear the brunt of caring for them. It was expected. The hoary head was to be honored, even if things were difficult.

We have come a long way from the days when God-fearing families cared for their eldest members, and honored and respected them. This is the main reason so many old people are suffering now! In the social game of tinkering around with the moral mainstay of society—the family—and turning away from the traditional, God-ordained family structure, the aged have become big losers!

Here are some other major factors that have led to the present, disastrous state of affairs for so many of our senior citizens.

Distance: Geographical distancing divides families. This modern world has been galvanized into its present form by one technological and industrial change after another, all too often destroying family unity in its wake. Families have been separated geographically in the pursuit of personal goals or economic survival. For so many children, words like granddad and grandma have come to mean little more than distant voices at the other end of the telephone.

Generation gap: The harm of the “generation gap” to internal family unity. Given the constant push toward newness and change, the experiences and values of one generation appear increasingly old-fashioned and strange to the next. Witness the term “generation gap” which has firmly wheedled its way into our dictionaries. Meanwhile, each new punch at traditional values made by rebellious pop culture and shocking trendsetters has shaken whole eras and chipped away at the values once uniting society. The result? Most old people are marginalized and can’t keep up with the changes.

Change: Unfamiliar surroundings can sever vital links with the past. Having grown up in a particular mode of life—in a rural setting, for example—new environments, such as city life, can appear impersonal and painfully unfamiliar. Too often, in their old age, old people fail to fit in to new surroundings.

Big, busy cities are not the best of places to hold on to personal and cultural history. Even young people feel compelled to conform and blend into the crowd to the point where their personal identity is often threatened, if not totally swept away, by the impersonal nature of city life. For old people, it can be extremely hard when suddenly forced to change the habits of a lifetime and adapt to new ways of life.

Divorce: Broken families spell tragedy for senior citizens. The dreams and hopes that married couples build around their families can be shattered in old age by the divorce of one of their children. The implications, as they settle in to enjoy their golden years, can be dire! Suddenly the whole family is thrown out of joint, sometimes irreparably. The grandparent-grandchild relationship is immediately complicated when divorced couples with children re-marry.

Cost: Looking after the aged usually comes with an expensive health-care tag. The post-World War ii baby boomers have emerged into a new century as a flood of senior citizens claiming retirement pensions. Many local authorities are struggling to cater for the present disproportionate number of old people in society. Bureaucracies are feeling the weight of the responsibility, which many nations took on under socialist governments during times of relative affluence, and finding they are now struggling to cope with what has become a Herculean burden.

Also, the real value of pensions and fixed income from savings slips progressively against an inflationary economic system. Old people on (initially adequate) pensions can easily decline into poverty, as transportation, food, rent and medical costs shoot through the roof. Compensating for theses deficiencies can become an insupportable financial burden for many families.

Misplaced values: Old people are seen as being of little economic worth, except for what they might leave behind when they die. In a results-oriented world, the elderly are regularly looked down upon, or ignored, because they are not seen as producing much.

The most disturbing fact, though, is that the combination of such factors has acted as a catalyst, aggravating the increased tendency toward violence in families unprepared to cope.

God on the Old

What does God think of all this?

God makes His view on the way old people should be treated transparently clear in the Bible! It is summed up in the Fifth Commandment: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12).

God hates disrespect being shown toward the elderly. He hates the way they are being mistreated, undervalued and abused in this evil world. And He will have this sorry state of affairs reversed when Jesus Christ returns with power and glory, after the soon-coming Tribulation and Day of the Lord.

Younger people will be made to respect the ancient and the hoary head!

The Bible admonishes, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32). Young people used to be taught to give up their seat to an older person if necessary, and even on occasions to stand up when a senior citizen entered the room. Such behavior would be the last thing to cross most teens’ minds these days. Why? Because of lack of education! Such behavior would be ridiculed by the majority of our youth.

Thankfully, though, shortly—when the World Tomorrow under the rule of Jesus Christ and the saints has become a reality, everybody will be taught to study their Bibles—individually, as a family, and at Church—and made to put God’s ways into practice.

Consequently, old people will be looked up to and will occupy positions of honor in their families and communities. Most elderly will be blessed and financially self-supporting, and their families will be on hand to care for them. Nevertheless, should the need for extra financial assistance arise, putting undue strain on the family, God has lovingly incorporated into His tithe system a mechanism catering to the poor, the destitute, the widow and the financially burdened (Deuteronomy 26:12). The Church will always be there to lend help in cases of true need.

So, under God’s perfect system there will be no hard-up, unloved old people. In a world dominated by the principle of give rather than get, and built on the principles of solid, godly, family values, it will be considered an honor to care for the elderly and to ensure that their every need is met.

Consider Jesus Christ’s perfect example. Even while being crucified, just before His death, one of His concerns was to ensure that His mother would be properly taken care of. He told John to look after her and give her the love an aging mother deserves (John 19:25-27).

The result, at Jesus Christ’s Second Coming, of His divine intervention in world affairs to keep mankind from utter destruction, will be immediate—but it will take time to correct all wrongs! The world won’t be transformed into a paradise from one moment to the next. First, there will be a lot of clearing up and repairing to do after the destruction left behind by the worldwide cataclysm that will occur before Christ’s return. Concurrently, people will be forced to undo the errors that have been the cause of so many woes in society. Bit by bit this will bring with it fantastic results—and the obedient will be showered with great blessings!

In the World Tomorrow, the elderly will be blessed and greatly revered! How much so? “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31). Once this upside-down world has been totally corrected and reformed, the aged will become the world’s crown and glory!

Senior citizens will never be abused, mistreated, disrespected or victimized again! God the Father will see to that.

Old people will play an active, highly respected part in the family unit and in educating society, and the family will be blessed for obeying God by taking them under their wings.

Read the promise contained in the Fifth Commandment again! Godly families will grow prosperous. These are unbreakable promises contained repeatedly within the pages of your Bible.

The curses for disobedience are just as clear. If you doubt, beware!

God feels very strongly about the hoary head being given great respect. Note the story where God sent bears down from the mountain to devour a group of young people mocking the elderly Elijah, in 2 Kings 2.

Seniors can have a great deal of wisdom and a lot to teach the young. They are not to be mistreated and pushed around like baggage. What they think and have to say is important!

“Age is the crowning culmination of life, the golden years. It should be looked upon with honor, respect, even awe. It should be an experience made pleasant by the warm attention and support of family members, especially children and grandchildren” (Plain Truth, May 1980).

God the Father Himself goes by the name Ancient of Days! (Daniel 7:9).

A timely warning for any of us guilty of ageism!