We are obligated to act with respect towards the elderly, for we find that the Holy One showed respect to the elderly (Vayikra Rabba 11:8). The Gemara (Bava Basra 10b) records that king Shlomo was asked: “Who is destined to the World to Come?” and he replied: “Anyone who acts with respect to the elderly.” Indeed it is one of the six-hundred-thirteen mitzvos to rise to one’s feet before an old person. With regard to where one sits, as well, one must honor older people. Even a young scholar should place the older person ahead, and should not say, “I am knowledgeable, so I should sit at the head.” For this is a degradation of the talmid chacham that he should take honor for himself to sit in the place of those who are older than him. He should worry about the fact that people will talk about him and say that he acted inappropriately, which would result in a desecration of the Name of God. So, the scholar should sit below; but if the others insist that he sit further up, than he may (and should) go up.
Another way of giving respect to elders is by asking them for their advice. Our Sages said: “If elders say ‘Tear down’ and the young say ‘Build,’ listen to the elders, for the tearing down of elders is actually building and the building of youth is actually tearing down” (Megillah 31b). And even if their advice seems inappropriate, the youth should not shame the elders; rather, they should respond with pleasantness and with all respect due them.
An older person should also be mindful of his own respect and not act in a manner that will bring himself disgrace by acting in ways that are inappropriate for elders. He should also not speak up in a place where he knows he will not be listened to. Our Sages have said (Tanchuma, Mikeitz) that one should pray about his old age that he be healthy and free of the infirmities of the elderly. One should always pray before hardship comes his way (Sanhedrin 44b), and therefore one should pray about this when he is still in the bloom of his life.
If one is caring for an elderly person who suffers from the infirmities of age, the elderly person should be treated with patience and with respect. The reward one receives is in accord with the effort. And the way one treats others is the way he will be treated one day. In any event, Hashem will reward the person for his deeds.