WHEN INFIRMITIES OVERTAKE
by David Sisler
The man is a quarter century past the Biblical three score years and ten. He has walked faithfully with God his entire life. But in these days of inactivity, a condition brought on not by choice, but by infirmity, he needs reassurance. He is afraid. "Afraid" seems so polite, so unemotional. He is just plain scared. Can you understand that?
As a nation we are living longer and growing older. In 1970 the median age of the American population was 28, in 1990 it had increased to 33. In 1970 slightly more than 20 million Americans were 65 years of age or older. In 1990 that figure increased to 31.7 million. By the year 2000, 13 percent of the population, almost 35 million Americans, will be over the age of 65. In 50 years, according to Newsweek, one third of the population will be senior citizens.
That was the good news. Now for the bad news. Today, 3.3 workers support every person receiving social security. In 50 years it will be fewer than two workers per recipient. In 50 years social security deductions may claim as much as 40 percent of an individual's income. The social security fund's surplus could disappear in fewer than 50 years because of the federal government's practice of borrowing those funds to finance the budget deficit. Medicare could be bankrupt in less time than that.
We smiled three decades ago when the Beatles asked, "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?" Today we aren't laughing. In 1970 there were 12 senior citizen day care facilities where busy working people dropped off their parents during the day, just like their infants and preschoolers. In 1990 there were more than 2000 such facilities that provided supervision and company for aging adults.
As the sheer number of elderly citizens increase, so will health care problems and health care costs — compound that with the fact that the number of senior citizens who live at the poverty level is 40 percent higher than the national average.
We are living longer, but medical science has yet to combat successfully many of the disabling conditions of old age. Arthritis, stroke and other ailments continue to make it difficult to enjoy the so-called golden years. In 1990, six million Americans 65 or older required assistance with such basic life functions as dressing, eating, bathing, and going to the bathroom. In 50 years that figure will increase to almost 14 million.
One of the greatest problems facing the elderly is fear, much more so than with any other age group in our nation. The elderly currently comprise about 10 percent of the America's population, yet they commit 25 percent of the suicides. A 1984 study at the Medical College of Virginia concluded that passive suicide — refusing to eat or to take medication — was eight times higher among the elderly than the rest of the population.
Elderly people often ask questions the younger members of our society never consider: Will I be able to live on my pension and social security? Will social security be available? What about the never ending rise of prices and my fixed income? What if I get sick? Will my children throw me out when I need them the most?
The Psalmist David cried out to God, "Cast me not off in the time of old age — for now I have most need of thee." That is not an unusual prayer when we see old age coming. Many elderly feel useless; it is no wonder David prayed that God would not find him a burden. It is not improper to pray for special grace and special strength to help us meet what we cannot ward off and what we view with increasing dread.
"Who would want to be an old man tottering with years," Albert Barnes wrote, "or a woman broken down with infirmities?" The elderly stand alone in grave yards where friends and loved ones have already gone. Is it any wonder that the person who looks backward over eight or nine decades trembles at the days rushing on to eternity?
Old age is a thief. It blemishes our beauty. It snatches our strength. It heists our health. It molests our memory. One thing it does not do — it cannot cut us off from the love and favor of God.
Cast me not off? God promised, "The white head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 10/10/98
Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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