Care for the elderly: Some perspectives from Scripture

Stephen J. McKinney, Robert J. Hill and Honor Hania

This article is focused on the care for the elderly and some Old and New Testament perspectives on this care. We explain that the population of elderly people is increasing in the UK and discuss five key factors that can adversely affect the lives of older people and prevent them from participating fully and meaningfully in contemporary communities. We then briefly examine some perspectives on the elderly and the care of the elderly from the Old and New Testaments. We identify some congruence between the five key factors and the scriptural perspectives and conclude that honour and care of the elderly is an integral part of the Christian vision of life.

Stephen J. McKinney and Honor Hania are at the University of Glasgow. Robert J. Hill is the parish priest of St. Matthew's Bishopbriggs, Archdiocese of Glasgow.

The care for the elderly in the UK has become an important concern. There has been a growth in the number of the elderly: the percentage of people over 65 has increased from 14.1% in 1975 to 17.8% in 2015.1 The Office of National Statistics calculates that this percentage is projected to grow further, to a quarter of the overall population by the year 2045. The life expectancy of the population is increasing as a result of improved healthcare and, in some cases, healthier lifestyles. There has been an increase in the number of people who are sixty-five or over and a marked increase in the number of people who are eighty-five and over.2 There are, of course, significant differences in different parts of the UK: the poorer the area the more likelihood of illness and disability for older people and the more likely an earlier mortality rate. The increase in older people does create pressure for the Health and Social Services and there has also been a rise in the number of unpaid carers (care from family and friends) and these carers are providing care for more people with complex needs. Many of these carers, as spouses or partners of the elderly, are likely to be older people themselves. One of the more serious challenges is that older people are more susceptible to mental health problems. This can mean the widely publicised serious condition of dementia caused by diseases such as Alzheimer's but also an increase in levels of anxiety and depression for many elderly men and women. Age Concern and the Mental Health Foundation have identified five key factors that impact on the general health and well being of older people.3 These are (1) physical and mental health; (2) poverty; (3) relationships; (4) participation in meaningful activities and (5) discrimination.4 This article aims to examine these five key factors and provide a concise overview of the perspectives on the elderly that are contained in the Old and New Testaments.

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