Why isn’t loneliness on parties’ agendas?

A district nurse visits my independent 80-year-old mother to change
a dressing. Over the next three hours, including travelling time,
she has eight visits to make, says the nurse. Many of her patients
are elderly. They obviously need medical assistance but what would
also help several of them to thrive is a visitor who can sit down
and chat. Sadly, her time is squeezed.

As Community Care reported last week, a growing proportion of those
who vote are aged 50-plus. So, all three major parties are
discussing a modest agenda for the electorate who are “older”.

As Community Care also reported, what’s actually required continues
to be absent: a decent income, vastly improved personal care, and a
sustained assault on ageism. But even if all three were on offer,
they still wouldn’t be enough.

One of the major challenges ahead is how to reduce the loneliness
of the older citizen, in particular, since such isolation corrodes
physical and mental health and rots any quality of life.

This month, the charity Help the Aged launches an admirable
campaign, cringingly called HUG – Help Unite the Generations – to
address loneliness. HUG aims to encourage relatives and neighbours
to have more contact with the older generation.

A poll the charity commissioned revealed that 11 per cent of older
people saw their grandchildren less than twice a year. Two million
– so few? – do not feel valued as older members of society and
820,000 feel cut off from the world around them.

More than two-thirds of those questioned did not have any friends
aged under 30. These findings chime with several earlier

Help the Aged’s campaign also intends to raise funds for practical
support such as SeniorLink, a 24-hour telephone service. Many older
people, however, would never talk to a stranger. Nor would they
visit a day centre, join a lunch club or allow a home help across
the threshold.

They are as diverse in their tastes and interests in old age as
they were when young. Yet we offer little to match that range of
outlooks and personalities.

We are awash with social innovators paid as government advisers.
Yet a void exists where proposals ought to be germinating to
provide older people with unpatronising support, friendship and

Lateral thinking and better ideas are required and fast – and not
just because there’s a general election.

Yvonne Roberts

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