"Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone" (Psalm 71:9). David said this to
God, but often what he asked of God was what his fellow man had failed to do.
It seems a great number of people think there is not much use in helping the weak and sick and senile old people,
for they don't understand what is going on anyway. Well, let's talk about senility. It will help us know how to help these
people. We usually define senility as the traits of periodic forgetfulness and not quite understanding everything that
goes on around the person. Consider for a moment what type of life usually precedes this "senility."
Do you recall the last time you were sick and had to stay in bed at least two days? You were alone most if not all
the time and sleeping much of it. Recall, if you will, what it was like for you your first day out of bed after your illness.
Remember? Your mind was working much more slowly than usual.
You were a little confused, for the world had gone on without you. Even in a few short days things happen and
change. You really didn't have much to say. After breakfast, you went back to work or you began your daily routine.
But you found yourself just sitting there wondering, "Now where was I? What was it that was so important that I just had
to get done? Let me see, it seems I left that what-you-call-it over here somewhere." It was probably an hour or longer
before you began to feel your old self again.
Now consider what it would be like if you didn't go back to your job and/or there were no other people left in your
house - just you. What if there were no responsibilities for you to ease back in to? If there was no one around but
you, there wouldn't be much housekeeping or cooking to go back to. So what do you do? You just sit. Perhaps you
watch television, and that helps bring you back into the world to some degree, but it is very passive. The day ends,
you haven't spoken to anyone, and you go back to bed. The next morning you don't get up quite as early as in
previous weeks or months or years; for no one is expecting you anywhere, and you don't have anywhere you need to
go or anything you need to do. So you sit again.
Then, after a few weeks, your grown son or daughter comes by on their way shopping. They ask you about
something you discussed weeks ago. Your mind is rather slow now because it hasn't been getting much exercise, and
your time orientation is a little off because of no particular experiences to mark your days. So you say you don't seem
to remember that. They prod you a little and then you seem to remember and recall the events with them; but they
patiently tell you that was another time. And so they go away thinking, "Poor thing, s/he is becoming senile."
Are you beginning to understand what senility can be? The result of not using the brain? The same thing would
happen if anyone nearly quit using their arms or legs or any part of their body. Decrease of use creates weakness.
The same is true with decreased use of the brain.
True, there are some older people who are called senile because they are suspicious of everyone, or sit around
and talk to someone who is not there, or who have to constantly wash their hands. Let's not give them that catch-all
hopeless label called senility. If it isn't Alzheimer's Disease, let's call it what it is ~ paranoia, schizophrenia, neurosis.
When we call someone "senile," what we really mean is "hopelessly incurable at this age."
True, the arteries harden and the blood supply does not get through as much as it used to. But hardening of the
arteries has been discovered in young people too; yet we do not call them senile. If they begin to act unusual, we try
to help them. Let us recognize these mental problems for what they are and get some professional help for these
people. Or if it is the dreaded Alzheimer's Disease, some medications help.
What about the some who feign deafness or bad eyesight or not being able to walk without someone right there?
That's just a game. You'd be surprised how many of our older folks are playing this little game with us, and we are
gullible enough to believe it! If they don't think they are getting enough attention, they will get a little extra this way.
Society has been getting more attention with little games since the Beginning, and this is one "sure thing" for older
With so-called deafness we all have to take a little longer to say things,and pronounce our words slowly and
loudly. They may even throw a "Wha-ja-say?" our way a couple times just to make a conversation take a little longer
still. With poor eyesight, they'll need us quite often to show them where things are because, after all, they can't see.
And anyone knows that if you can't walk well by yourself, you'll have to have someone by your side. See all the
attention being derived this way? They know exactly what they're doing. It's a game. It works.
The things mentioned above are to aid you in helping older people whether still struggling to live at home
independently or now having to live in an assisted-living home. Most of what will be suggested may be applied to
people struggling to remain at home. However, the major emphasis will be on people living in assisted-living homes,
sometimes merely a separate wing of a nursing home.
They have much to live for, even though they may not know it. It is up to the outsider ~ you ~ to help them
discover this. Here they are in a sort of hotel with no responsibilities, no purpose in life, and nothing to do unless they
think of it. Remember, the best way to help people is to show them how to help themselves, and then how to help
others. To feel needed and wanted is the foundation of mental well being.
There are various individual activities you could encourage people to get involved in to help pass their day
productively. Many of these activities are the same as those discussed in the chapter on homemaking for others. If
they can knit, crochet, sew by hand or machine, encourage them to begin again doing these things. Ask the ladies of
your congregation for help with yarn, fabric, thread, patterns, etc. If anyone has a sewing machine to donate or loan
indefinitely, that would be a bonus. By all means, there would be nothing wrong with them selling some of the items
they make to earn a little extra spending money.
They could help Bible class teachers by cutting out pictures, tracing things for overhead projectors, etc. They
could help stuff envelopes for special church mailings. They could take a Bible Correspondence Course, and then
become a teacher and help grade lessons for others taking the course.
These older people are greatly needed by their families. Yes, we usually think of it the other way around, but this
is not necessarily so. Their children out in the business world and raising children of their own are facing many things
day by day. They need the encouragement of elderly parents, and letters from them would be appreciated. If they
have arthritis in their hands and cannot write, perhaps you could let them dictate to you.
If they enjoy writing letters and notes and don't have arthritis in their hands, encourage them to get involved in
activities suggested in the chapter on letter writing. The church may be able to donate paper, envelopes and stamps.
The men may be good at whittling and making little toys. Or they may know all about making fishing lures. They
could sell some of them for a little extra money, or donate them to worthy causes.
Some of these older people need to learn to enter society again. Their immediate society is the assisted-living
home. Get acquainted with two people staying in the same room, if such is the arrangement of the home you visit.
They may or may not ever have really conversed together before. Find out about each of them, and then kind of play
mediator to get them talking ~ really communicating ~ with each other. You may have to ask one of them what they
think of a certain thing, and then turn around and ask the other one what they think of the same thing. At first, they
may only grunt a short answer. Be patient and stick it out. Show them you really do care, and others do too.
Go on then to another room. This probably will involve another visit to the home as these things take time. Do
the same thing with these roommates until you have covered one wing or section, depending on the number of rooms
in that wing. Find out about family, former occupations, whether or not they play checkers or dominoes, whether they
sew, what part of the country they are from, and any other interests. You'll probably have to keep some notes to keep
everyone straight until you get to know them better. But don't write them in front of the people; do it in your car or at
Next, pick out some of those with similar backgrounds or interests. Visit one of the more out-going ones and say
something like, "Did you know Annie Cranston down the hall is from the same part of Missouri you are?" Or, "Did you
know Charlie Brockwell down the hall claims to be a checkers champion?" The person you are talking to may not even
look up when you say this, but keep your cheery disposition, and stick with it.
Then go on and say something like, "Let's walk down and see them," or "Let's invite them to play a game of
checkers." They're likely to reply, "Well, I don't know." Encourage them, and unless they say absolutely no, help them
walk down the hall or go get the person to come visit in this room.
Stay with them and try to get them talking together with leading questions like, "Tell Annie about what happened
that time you rode a horse all the way to the county seat to get the doctor when you were ten." If their conversation
remains a little awkward, stay with them; and after ten or fifteen minutes, offer to walk the other one back to their
room. If they get a good conversation going on their own, then excuse yourself, and congratulate yourself for a job
well done. After you have accomplished this, the main battle will have been won, for you will have got them to come
out of themselves and "join the world" once again.
Lastly, try to get these people out of the home whenever possible. They are not there because they are terribly
sick, but because they can't get around like they used to and can't keep up their own home any more. Have you ever
stared at four walls for months or years at a time. Don't let this happen to them if their only need is transportation and
a companion to make sure they don't fall.
If it is a warm, sunny day, you may want to bring some friends with you, and take different residents for short walks
or rides in their wheel chairs. Take them shopping monthly for incidentals. If it is cold, take them for a car ride. Take
them to worship services with you on Sunday if possible. Have some of them into the homes of the Christians you
know ~ beginning with yourself ~ for a meal occasionally, or even to stay overnight.
One thing that will indirectly help them socialize more is to encourage them to dress as well as possible. Some
may not have any good clothes. See if you can get some used ones that are nice, some that a friend could make, or
get a few dollars and take them shopping to pick out something brand new. Also, you may wish to obtain the
assistance of some other ladies or teenage girls to come once a week to wash and set hair. When we look nice, we
feel nice and act nice.
At this point, if you find that working with the people in an assisted-living home is rewarding to you and you would
like to continue, tell the director this. Do keep in mind, however, that you are still a visitor, a guest. At any rate, you
will be a sight for sore eyes, so to speak. Some assisted-living homes have activity directors now. If this one does,
ask what you can do to help. If it does not, ask the director. Both will welcome your assistance, for they still rely on
community groups and individuals to come in and help with activities. You may desire to continue helping only on an
individual basis as discussed above. Or you may wish to go on to helping with occasional group activities. Here are
Singing is a popular activity with all ages. All too often a group comes in to an assisted-living home, performs a
few songs, and leaves. Performing is fine, but participation by all is more fun. Even a kitchen band could be
organized. With something like this, plus a few songs the group knows well, the residents could have a performance in
reverse. Instead of a group coming in to perform for them, they could send out invitations and have the people come
to hear them perform. What a delight!
Probably some religious group comes on Sunday afternoons to hold a service. Sometimes one group does this,
or it is rotated among various ones. If no one is doing this on a regular basis, be sure to talk with your elders about
some young people coming out every Sunday for a worship service and visiting afterwards.
In these services, do not neglect giving. This is as much a part of worship as singing. These oldsters do have a
little money, and need the blessing of being able to give to their Lord. Do not deny them this privilege. Remember the
widow and her mite? They may only put in a quarter a week, but it will still be giving. After a few dollars have been
collected, tell them about some good works such as helping a missionary, a burned-out family, etc., so they may select
one to help.
Something else that would probably go over is a Bible class, not necessarily on Sunday. It could be held for thirty
or forty minutes since these people do tire easily. Mornings at 10:30 or afternoons around 3:30 are good times.
Choose subjects that would be most interesting to them such as "Senior Citizens of the Bible," or "A Survey of the
Whole Bible," or "Applied Christianity For the Shut In," or "Old Fashioned First-Century Christianity."
In your Applied Christianity lessons you should include studies on being interested in each other's problems;
providing someone to talk to; praying with each other; doing little things for each other; giving to each other; writing
letters to people outside the home needing them.
Another activity for assisted-living homes would be working through the local library or community college to bring
in travel films once a week, or science films that cover animals or events. More and more quality films are also being
put out on events in the Bible, and they too would be appreciated.
Yes, there are so many, many things you can do for and with these people. Though it seems they are the most
neglected people in the world, their capacity to love after a long and hard life is enormous. Let us not be guilty of so
serious a neglect. Remember, we are to Look after orphans and widows in their distress for this is religion that God
our Father accepts as pure and faultless (James 1:27).
You needn't ever think that going to an assisted-living home might distress you. Many of these people have lived
there for years and it is their home. They love visits, and they long for an opportunity the "adopt" you into their family.
You in turn can be an influence to show them the love which flows within the Family of God.