Many of our Elderly are suffering

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The issue of how elderly people are treated, both in their own homes and in nursing homes of all types is something which has been on my mind recently. I believe that it is the elderly, more so than any other sector in our western society who are most vulnerable in these days. Now, I am not elderly (just yet!) but for the past few weeks I have been suffering from a really bad flu virus which, after two weeks continues to leave me feeling worn out, incapable, weak and really ill and it is at times like these that you really are confronted with your own vulnerability. Thankfully, my family are at hand to assist and are so kind but what if I was totally alone? Those times when I could not so much as get myself a glass of water and those times when I felt really sick, were times when I really started to think about growing old and what the future held for me.

Now I know that as a Christian, the Lord will provide for me whatever happens and that He supplies grace in our suffering – for suffering may be our lot in our latter years. Yet, I have been dismayed in recent years to personally witness lack of compassion in hospital wards and in a home for the elderly. Of course this is not always the case but a growing amount of abuse has been highlighted where elderly people are concerned.

Often mere basic respect is missing – but even this can be distressing for the elderly people concerned. There are many verses in scripture that uphold respect for our elders…“Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old,” (Proverbs 23v22). And of course the fifth commandment (and the first with promise) is: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” (Exodus 20v12)

Leviticus 19v32 instructs: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord.”

It has been said that a society or nation may be judged on the basis of how it treats its vulnerable members and if that is so, then our western society does not score very well. A recent survey revealed situations where an elderly woman was left alone in the dark for hours, unable to find food or drink; another was left without a walking frame and was unable to get to the bathroom, while other elderly people were neglected with regard to essential medication, for diabetes etc. Other surveys highlight even worse situations, where elderly people are psychologically and physically abused on a daily basis, by being sworn at, shouted at, struck violently – and even worse.

Some societies have a special regard for their elderly and would be horrified by even a lack of respect for them. For example, every year on the third Monday of September, the Japanese hold “Respect for the Aged Day.”

However as Christians, the Lord gives us a love and respect for elderly people, whose ranks we will join sooner or later! Of course I recognise that, like other age groups, not all elderly people know Him and this is where I believe that we need to be close to them and to be faithful to them – not only attending to their physical and emotional needs – but also to their spiritual needs.

There are so many lonely elderly people out there- even in old people’s homes, who would benefit greatly from a Christian visiting them and reading to them – and telling them the Good News that very possibly they have never before had the privilege to hear. My father-in-law, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, has short term memory impairment but his long term memory for the most part is intact. How he enjoyed seeing once again the old house where he lived as a boy, something I took a recent photograph of and was able to let him view on my laptop. He also recognised and was fascinated by photographs of old steam trains, sewing machines and flat irons which were used in his day, some of which were on display in a Greek museum that we visited on holidays. But most of all there are tears in his eyes when we read God’s precious Word to him and pray with him. Elderly folk are precious, eternity lies ahead and the Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should find in Him a refuge in this, their hour of greatest need.

May we be faithful to them, respecting their experience and knowledge of all the decades they have lived through and may we be vigilant with regard to how they are treated and the circumstances they are living in, caring for their health, their needs – and loving their souls.

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