Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:32

For centuries, generations were taught to respect their elders. Respect, after all, means to esteem, prize, and value. The book of Proverbs proclaims, “Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.” (Proverbs 17:6) Clearly, God highly esteems cohesive relationships between grandchildren, children, and their parents.

How Old Is Old?

A recent and frankly surprising 2018 statistic read, “the number of people older than 64 years old surpassed the number of children under 5 years old. This was the first time in history.” Some studies declare 60 is the number for old age while others say 65. In Australia, the age is as low as 50.

The United Nations claimed in 2017 the number of seniors globally was 962 million. In a world with a total population of 7.8 billion that may not seem like much, but consider the fact that the number doubled in just 40 years. It is estimated that there will be 2.1 billion people over the age of 60 by the year 2050.

The Generations

Why is the younger generation commanded to respect the older? As Job says, “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12) With age comes wisdom. Proverbs declares, “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.” (Proverbs 20:29) The generations are to respect the importance of one another, strength for the young and wisdom for the elder.

Society in the 21st century is quick to recognize the strength and prowess of youth. Yet, the wisdom of the elderly is often dismissed. There’s a dichotomy between technology and science. Technology has left those 65 and over in the dust, but medicine declares 60 to be the new 50.

Who Is Winning?

Traditionally, in many countries such as China and India, caring for aging parents means having them in your home or at least close by. India has one of the world’s highest shares of extended families living together. In fact in many parts of the world, aging relatives live in extended-family households that include grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and adult children and their spouses.

Globally, Norway and Sweden rank highest in taking the best care of their seniors, followed by America. Central and eastern European countries rank at the bottom. Because many families are separated by hundreds of miles in America, the elderly are more likely to live alone. When they can no longer take care of themselves, they reside in assisted living or in homes with a caregiver.

Risk Of Harm

Statistics from the National Council on Aging reports almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect occurs by a family member. Two thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) describes elder abuse as “an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult. An older adult is someone age 60 or older.” Common types of elder abuse include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional or psychological abuse
  • Neglect
  • Financial abuse

The difficulty comes for elders when they have to choose to either tell someone about the abuse or continue being abused by someone they trust and almost certainly love.

Reasons for Abuse

Dementia, lack of finances, and physical disabilities are some of the reasons for elder abuse. Often, aging relatives are isolated from other family and friends so the extent of the abuse isn’t known.

When caregivers lack support for themselves, it can lead to depression and a resentment for the one who is being cared for. Sometimes it is a lack of education or understanding on how to care for a senior that causes the abuse. If finances are already stretched or the caregiver relies on the older adult for financial assistance, the chance for abuse is higher. Today’s adults are also facing greater stresses than previous generations. Often they find themselves caring for not only aging parents, but adult children as well.

From Cradle to Grave

The elderly must never be discredited, abused, or neglected. Because of fear or memory problems, they remain silent, but all are valuable in God’s sight. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15)

Elevating Elder Respect and Dignity

As a global society, we have an opportunity to respect our elderly population by celebrating their wisdom, experience, and contribution to society. Instead of dismissing them, we can reposition and engage them in new ways that value their contribution, while bettering society as a whole.

Training and equipping younger family members with skills and insights for providing healthier care to their aging family members is one of the best ways to foster dignity within families. Creating generational partnerships where seniors are treated as equals is important. By pairing the skills and interests of our elderly populations with businesses, nonprofits, and community programs, we can provide new and different ways for them to serve.

The pace of life today leaves little time for younger people. Families are pushed to their limit with work, school and outside activities. But, older citizens have the necessary time to contribute to their communities, especially in times of disaster. Our senior citizens are often the ones volunteering on a continual basis.

We all want to believe we have meaning and purpose. Creating opportunities for seniors to pair up with businesses or others in society delivers the message that they and the wisdom they provide are valued. “If you prize wisdom, she will make you great. Embrace her, and she will honor you.” (Proverbs 4:8)

Making A Difference

Investments designated toward the elderly population will be used to help equip them with the resources that empower them to contribute to society, other nonprofits, or the ministry of the church.

  • Hearing aids to bring them into conversations
  • Walkers, canes, or other devices that create mobility
  • Ministries who employ the elderly to advance the mission
  • Training for churches who want to serve this population

This population has been there and done it. It is imperative that we not lose the wisdom nor the heart of someone who can and wants to continue to serve.

You will never have this day again, so make it count.