Do not cast me aside in my old age;
as my strength fails, do not forsake me.
As the percentage of the population over 65 increases, attitudes toward and care of the elderly becomes a major concern for families and our society as a whole. Addressing this issue on March 5, in an audience with members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Holy Father emphasized that, “The biblical commandment to honor our parents reminds us in a broader sense of our duty to honor all elderly people.”
We cannot allow ourselves to become indifferent to suffering, “the human person always remains precious, even when elderly or afflicted by illness,” the Pope continued, “The elderly need, first and foremost, the care of their families – whose affection cannot be substituted even by the most efficient structures or by the most competent and charitable healthcare workers.”
Census data indicates a decline in the nursing home population, attributable to better health among the elderly but also to more being cared for by their families in their homes. That is good news. Regardless of the quality of care available, there is a sense of abandonment attached to moving to a nursing home.
“Abandonment,” Pope Francis stated, “is the most serious ‘malady’ to afflict the elderly, and also the greatest injustice they can suffer; those who have helped us to grow should not be abandoned when they need our help, our love.”
There are circumstances which make it impossible to care for a parent or elderly person at home and an assisted living facility must be used. In that event every effort must be made to insure proper and loving care is provided and frequent visits and phone calls made to maintain connections and prevent the feeling of abandonment.
“When life becomes very fragile and the end of earthly life comes close, we feel the responsibility to look after and accompany the person in the best way possible,” the Pope continued. This would involve both spiritual and medical care. Spiritually, pastoral care and the Sacrament of the Sick should be made available, and medically, effective palliative care to relieve suffering should be used.
St. Paul reminds us “Whoever does not provide for relatives and especially family members has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1Timothy 5:8)
Image credit: “Hands” by Marjan Lazarevski on Flickr