The ratio between young and old is changing, and soon the whole world will look like Florida," observed journalist Gavin du Venage last year. He's right. A drop in infant mortality, eradication of certain diseases, better medical care, and healthier diets all have helped boost longevity in the developed West to record levels. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 5.8 percent of the population is 75 or older, and 1.5 percent (5 million) is 85 or older—the fastest-growing demographic segment.

There are myriad examples of people living on their own into their 90s and functioning well. But virtually all who live long enough will need help at the end of their lives, whether through the physical assistance of family or a health care provider. If a person lives into the late 80s or early 90s, he or she will likely live in an assisted living facility, skilled-nursing center, or long-term care facility. And, of course, there is no guarantee that those extra years are going to be pleasant and pain-free. Contrary to rosy propaganda, 85 is not the new 65.

The elder population boom will affect everyone, and the church has an important role to play. In understanding the situation and what areas need improvement, congregations learn that they too benefit when they are involved in supporting the frail elderly.

Assisting the Caregivers

Octogenarian Luella "Blue" Koelling gradually required more attention in her Sullivan, Missouri, home from her 64-year-old daughter, Christine Williams. For two years, Williams paid for 24-hour private care during the week, usually from people she knew from church, the First Assembly of God. Typically two parishioners worked 12-hour shifts each day. Williams often dropped ...

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