Thursday 26 October 2017


        At a time when they long for stability older people are often called on to face drastic, and sometimes unwelcome, changes— moving home, retirement from a job, the loss of a partner. As their physical powers wane they may have to cope with illness, pain or loss of mobility. Loneliness is a very real problem, as contemporaries die and families move. They become increasingly aware that their life on earth is nearly over and many are afraid of dying. Finance, too, can cause concern, since half of the elderly are trying to make ends meet on less than half the average wage. It is not a time of life to be sentimentalised but to be faced with such realism as that shown in chapter 12 of Ecclesiastes.
        While our society provides a high level of medical and social care, the problems of the elderly are beingaggravated by certain social and cultural trends. Smaller and more mobile families are leading to the break-up of the extended family unit and this disintegration is further encouraged by the instability of marriage and the practice of both husband and wife going out to work. The result is that we are moving towards a society in which all the young and able-bodied are fully occupied with their own lives and older people are left without any relatives able to help care for them.
The development of the welfare state has not proved an unmixed blessing. It has created a "leave it to them" mentality, the tendency of the citizen to shrug off his own responsibilities with the comforting reflection that the state provides all that old people need. They are then abandoned to the mercy of an impersonal bureaucracy and starved of friendship and individual care.
The rampant disrespect for human life which is evidenced in the murder of thousands of the unborn is bound to affect those at the other end of life, especially as they consume an ever-increasing proportion of medical resources. Abortion will, paradoxically, have a child—called euthanasia.
Perhaps the most subtle, yet frightening, pressure which society exerts upon the elderly is its widespread worship of youth. Our culture glorifies the young, strong and beautiful. A whole industry is devoted to staving off the signs of aging, because, in the Western world, to be old is the unforgivable sin. The question of the popular song: "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?" is beginning to be answered in the negative.
        The Word of God stands firmly opposed to current devaluation of the old. They are to be given honour and respect: "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). Their advice is to be sought: "Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old." (Proverbs 23:22). Old people are not some separate species, but people who happen to be old— - ordinary people, whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, to care for in their need, to treat as valuable and important. Christians must lead the way in loving the elderly sacrificially, imaginatively and perseveringly. We must provide a model which, by God's grace, society may be led to follow.
        Scripture places the main responsibility for the care of the elderly upon the shoulders of younger relations. Such care is regarded as an essential element of saving religion: "But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God . . . But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." (1 Timothy 5: 4, 8).
These verses of course require more of us than financial support. Older people are to be recognised as part of the family, not overlooked or pushed to one side. Their advice and help should be sought whenever appropriate. If they live on their own— - which is usually desirable in the interests of maintaining identity and independence -- there should be frequent visiting and contacts. Nor should this be thought of as "one-way traffic", for grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles have an immense contribution to make to the younger generation. Young people who cultivate the society of their elders will find their own lives deeply enriched. There is, too, the promise of God's blessing upon a faithful observance of the fifth commandment: "Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.


While economic and medical advances mean that people are living longer, much of the world is not prepared to provide a high quality of life to its surging old-age population, according to a new UN-backed report.
Advocacy group HelpAge International and the United Nations Population Fund collaborated to rank 90 countries on the conditions provided for their elder population, using data from the UN, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Bank.
They are hoping that just like annual GDP and quality of life tables, the Global AgeWatch Index  will become a major instrument and standard for policy-makers around the world.
‘‘Unless you measure something, it doesn’t really exist in the minds of decision-makers,’’ said John Beard, Director of the WHO’s Department of Ageing and Life Course.
‘‘One of the challenges for population aging is that we don’t even collect the data, let alone start to analyze it...For example, we've been talking about how people are living longer, but I can’t tell you people are living longer and sicker, or longer in good health.’’
According to the report, Sweden - which has one of the world’s oldest pension systems - ranks at the top. Afghanistan, which offers no pensions at all for non-government employees, has been placed at the bottom. 
The problems of middle and lower income countries are likely to only grow in the future, as birth rates decline and current young populations begin to age.
The UN estimates that by 2050, the world’s older population - which is defined as those over age 60 - will increase from the current 800 million to over two billion.
Currently, Japan is the only country that has an older population of more than 30 percent. By 2050, 64 countries are expected to have the same ratios. Worldwide, people aged 60 and over will outnumber those aged 15 and below.
The demographic transformation will necessitate significant and often painful social, economic, and political decisions.
The total proportion of the economy spent on pensioners will have to increase as medical bills rise. Assisted living facilities will also become more common.
In turn, the current working population will have to make greater contributions, and retirement ages will likely have to rise to offset the impact of the ageing population.
Some of the countries facing the biggest obstacles are BRICS nations like China and India, whose social systems have not yet been brought up to speed with their booming economies.
Those and other developing countries will have to balance their need to remain competitive as international manufacturers with the growing number of older people left behind - particularly those who do not receive assistance from working family members.
On the other hand, developed states such as Germany and the Netherlands - which are both placed in the ranking’s top five - may have to reconsider their generous welfare programs as the proportion of pensioners increases.