It is estimated that for every one case of elder abuse, neglect, exploitation or self-neglect reported to authorities, about five more go unreported. How do you feel about that? Indifferent? Upset? Angry? I find it disturbing. Yet this is the reality for many senior citizens.
According to helpguide.org, every year, tens of thousands of elderly Americans are abused in their own homes, in relatives’ homes and even in facilities responsible for their care. The abuse ranges from physical, emotional and sexual to financial, healthcare fraud and patient neglect. This could be happening to someone you love and one day it could even happen to you.
Experts say abuse of the elderly tends to take longer to surface than child or spousal abuse, in part because the elderly may feel responsible when the violence is inflicted by their offspring, also because the problem has not been adequately addressed by authorities and if nothing is done when reported, there is fear the problem will get worse.
How do you think God feels about the mistreatment of the elderly? It might surprise you that respect for seniors was a law, according to Leviticus 19:32. It reads, “I command you to show respect for older people and to obey me with fear and trembling." — Contemporary English Version.
This decree came from the oldest Person of all time, described at Daniel 7:9 as "the Ancient of Days." How fitting!
At Psalm 68:5, David calls God “a judge of widows,” many of whom are often elderly. The English Standard Version calls God a “protector of widows,” while the New International Version calls Him, “a defender of widows.” Clearly, the Almighty cares for the elderly.
Not only was the treatment and respect given to such people tied in with one’s relationship with God, but mistreating the defenseless could be very costly. Exodus 22:22-24 warns, “Do not mistreat widows or orphans. If you do, they will beg for my help, and I will come to their rescue. In fact, I will get so angry that I will kill your men and make widows of their wives and orphans of their children.” — Contemporary English Version.
Can you imagine an elderly person crying out to God for aid because of being mistreated and Him feeling any different? Anyone needing assistance, especially the elderly, children and widows, should be treated with dignity and given the help they need.
This is in line with the Bible’s admonition at 1Timothy 5:1-3: “Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters. Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her.” — New Living Translation.
Is it enough simply to refrain from mistreating the elderly? According to James 1:27, Jesus’ true followers are told to look after widows in their tribulation. Would that include the suffering that comes from the pressures of life? I recently visited an elderly woman who also happens to be a recent widow.
My friend and I only stayed about 30 minutes. She cried and gave me a hug as we shared comforting Scriptures with her and listened to her fond memories of her husband. Anyone can visit the elderly and raise their spirit. It doesn’t take long. It only takes love. Can we pay more attention to our seniors who experience the distress of being lonely and depressed over their limitations?
The Bible shows that old age was not Jehovah’s original purpose for humans. It was the result of man’s sin in the Garden of Eden which also led to sickness and death, according to Genesis 3:17-19.
In poetic words, Psalm 92:14 foretold a bright future for true worshippers who regularly worship God. “They will be like trees that stay healthy and fruitful, even when they are old.” — Contemporary English Version.
God’s Word promises that the mistreatment of the elderly, including the ravages of old age and death, will soon become things of the past. Revelation 21:4 states: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
At that time, seniors will no longer express the words of Psalm 71:9, saying, “Do not throw me away in the time of old age, just when my power is failing, do not leave me.” — New World Translation.
They will know that God keeps His promises and will give faithful ones a reward far beyond their greatest expectations — even fulfilling Job 33:25: "His flesh shall be fresher than a child's: he shall return to the days of his youth."
But in the meantime, if you suspect elder abuse, neglect or exploitation, call 1-800-677-1116.
For further information on the National Center on Elder Abuse, visit www.ncea.aoa.gov.