If we’re honest, many of us are guilty of complaining about the aged among us being stuck in their ways, slow. And others of us are guilty of passing by the elderly without seeing them as people in need of the gospel. I know I recently came to the realization that being old doesn’t mean you’ve outgrown sin. Sin does not discriminate against age. Sin still wreaks havoc in the lives of the elderly. And aged men and women need the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We say we’re pro-life, but are we really as pro-life as we say? We rightfully care about the unborn, but what about the value of other lives trapped in circumstances we can’t relate to? What about the moms? What about the refugee? The orphan? The man or woman of color being treated unjustly?
This series will take a detailed and practical look at what it means to have a more robust pro-life ethic that can cross political lines. As Christians, our kingdom is not of this world or of any particular political party. Let’s take a look together at the value and dignity of human life from conception to death according to the Word of God, not political propaganda.
“This is going to be a difficult discharge.”
It’s a statement I hear every week. I work in an acute rehab unit in Arizona, where the majority population is over sixty-five years old. The patients I care for have some major life-changing illness or injury and spend about ten days to two weeks in our intensive rehab program. Our goal is to decrease the burden of care on those who will be living with these patients when they leave the hospital. We aim to help these people regain as much function possible after stroke, brain injury, major multiple trauma, fractures, and cardiac arrest have stolen their ability to do the things we all take for granted.
But often these men and women leave our hospital needing someone to be with them twenty-four hours a day. They may be able to walk, but they won’t be able to drive. They may be able to eat, but they won’t be able to buy groceries or cook. They may be able to control their bowels and bladder, but they won’t be able to get into and out of the bathroom. They may be able to wash their face at the sink, but they won’t be able to get in and out of shower without help. The people leaving our hospital are often not able to do what people in the medical field call “activities of daily living.”
However, many of these people don’t have someone to provide the everyday care they need. They often end up being discharged from the hospital to their own homes with relatives rotating from out of state to temporarily care for their needs, or they may have an elderly spouse taking them home, who is living on the edge of being one of our next patients themselves. This demographic of people is often overlooked and disregarded, even nick-named the “elder orphans” that “often go unrecognized by health-care providers and the community alike, silently living in danger of medical crises” (Carney, 2016).
The statistics on the needs of the aging population in the United States should be a sounding alarm for the American church. A sea of elderly and infirm image bearers is welling up all around us, and our healthcare system can’t stand against this enormous wave of human need. According to the Population Reference Bureau, “The current growth of the population ages sixty-five and older is one of the most significant demographic trends in the history of the United States.” The baby boomers (people born between the years of 1946 and 1964) are now between the ages of fifty-five and seventy-three years old, and they make up about twenty-two percent of the current population. And this large aging population of baby boomers, “…could fuel a seventy-five percent increase in the number of Americans requiring nursing home care (sixty-five years and older), to about 2.3 million in 2030 from 1.3 million in 2010.”
As this population ages, the demand for care for these elderly Americans increases. By 2050, three times the number of elderly Americans with dementia will need someone to care for them. In 2013, about 5 million elderly Americans needed the kind of twenty-four hour care people with dementia require. By 2050, 14 million will need this non-stop kind of care-giving.
For most elderly Americans, the thought of being dependent on someone else to care for their needs should they become unable to care for themselves is complicated by the cost of paying someone to provide that kind of care. In the United States, about a quarter of married couples and almost 45% of singles over 65 live on social security income alone. The average social security income is about $1,400 per month. This is far from the average cost of living in a group home or assisted living facility or paying for private care-giving, which would cost more than $4,000 a month.
When I read these kinds of statistics, I feel like I’m watching the wall of a tsunami build, and there’s nothing I can do about it. The United States is about to be overcome by the needs of our elders. I wonder if we who say we are pro-life have turned our backs on a sea of aging image bearers.