Prescription for Elder Abuse

A couple of years ago I sat down beside an elderly member in our local church congregation, who clearly was in distress, and asked how she was doing. Without complaining, she explained what I already knew: her knees were giving her a lot of pain. In spite of her obvious discomfort, she still had a sense of humor about her situation. She said with a twinkle in her eye, “Old age isn’t for wimps.” It certainly takes faith, courage, longsuffering and humility to face the difficulties that old age can bring.

The problems that often accompany aging are aggravated by our youth-oriented and youth-dominated society, which devalues the wisdom and understanding that often come only with age and experience. Thus the elderly not only have to deal with their diminishing physical abilities and growing liabilities, but they often suffer the indignity of a lack of respect for their worth as a person.

Lack of respect for the elderly is a contributing factor to elder abuse. Like everything else in life, respect for the elderly must be taught, learned and practiced. At God’s command, Moses instructed the people of Israel to “rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God” (Leviticus 19:32). Those with a proper reverence for God, one of whose names is the Ancient of Days, will show deference and respect toward the elderly. This attitude is reflected in the apostle Paul’s pastoral instruction to a young minister named Timothy. Paul admonished him to “not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father . . . [and] older women as mothers” (1 Timothy 5:1–2). This guideline is itself based on one of the cardinal points of God’s law: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12).

Regarding members of the early church community, Paul instructed Timothy: “If any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God” ( 1 Timothy 5:4). The care parents bestow on their chldren from birth until they are able to be fully independent adults needs to be reciprocated when elderly parents’ circumstances, such as declining health or mental confusion, thrust them into a dependent role.

Appreciating and applying these principles would go a long way toward eliminating elder abuse.