Making room for the elderly in our community

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Home > Media > News > Making room for the elderly in our community
Making room for the elderly in our community

By Ben Smith, Director of the Office of Life, Marriage and Family

According to a popular saying, “nothing can be certain in life, except death and taxes.” While there is much discussion about taxes in our society, death is rarely mentioned. Occasionally, a person such as Clive James shines a light on the experience of living when the end is not far off. However the general laws of public discourse steer the focus of life back to the bold and the beautiful and the pursuit of money, pleasure, power and status.

Connected with this issue is the cultural repulsion we have with ageing. Ageing gracefully and acquiring wisdom are also taboo topics. Advertising is constantly promoting hair replacement services, hair colouring and wrinkle removal products.

It is not surprising then that elderly people can feel devalued in our society. Pope Francis has highlighted that in western society there is a way of thinking of the elderly that assumes: “Not only do they not produce … but they are a burden: in short, what is the outcome of thinking like this? They are thrown away.” What arises from this thinking is a throw-away culture that leads to things such as elder abuse and ultimately to legalised euthanasia.

Elder abuse is a growing phenomenon in our society. It is unfortunate that this abuse can occur within families or can be instigated by carers, neighbours, friends, nurses, social workers and home helpers. It can also occur in relation to professional services and even in the context of residential aged care services.

How can we confront this ugly reality? Pope Francis has suggested that “we must reawaken the collective sense of gratitude, of appreciation, of hospitality, which makes the elder feel like a living part of his community.” How often do we visit a nursing home or an elderly member of our neighbourhood?

Furthermore, we have to value the wisdom of the elderly more than the information superhighway. As the Book of Sirach attests: “Do not disregard the discourse of the aged … because from them you will gain understanding and learn how to give an answer in time of need” (Sir 8:9). Do we make time to really listen to the elderly to receive their wisdom?

Now that euthanasia laws are operational in Victoria, we need to get serious in our Church community about making room for the elderly, making them feel valued and appreciating them as a font of wisdom in our ephemeral world.