The Guardian’s Zoe WIlliams wades into the debate over age and ageing.
… [The UK’s minister for care services] Paul Burstow, told me at another conference later in the week: “We equate old age and frailty as if they are automatically synonymous. We equate old age and senility as if they are automatically synonymous. This is something we’ve got to stop doing.”
MP Burstow has it right here– ageing includes but is not equivalent to decline. The problem is that we are all growing older in a society whose expectations, humor, media and public policies are declinist in nature. As a result, normal changes related to ageing are framed as evidence of “frailty and senility” when in fact they are nothing of the kind.
On this matter Samuel Johnson got it right 250 years ago. He noted that while a young man may mislay his hat and have nothing thought of it an old man who does this is immediately marked as incipiently senile.
I agree with Burstow that we need a new public policy that builds upon and relies upon the STRENGTHS of age and ageing.
The article then goes on to consider loneliness…
The second conference was not on ageing but loneliness. The figures are extraordinary: a meta-analysis undertaken in America, covering 309,000 people, found problematic solitude deleterious to health in a way that we’ve previously only managed to pin on life-long smoking. It’s worse for you than obesity.
According to the analysis, if you want to scotch the idea of old age as a state of dependency, you have to start thinking not in terms of how long you can keep yourself alive but of how long you can keep yourself healthy. And if you want to keep yourself healthy, the answer, for a change, is not about willpower, exercise, keeping active and looking after yourself. The answer is other people. So you’d better start making some friends.
Loneliness does, of course, lie at the heart of the matter. Ms. Williams does a good job of distinguishing “social loneliness” which is a matter of not having the opportunity to be with other people and “emotional loneliness” which involves an unmet need to be with specific people.
Indeed, in many of the new programmes going on around the country, you might struggle to immediately determine which was the volunteer and which the beneficiary. David McCullough, chief executive of the WRVS (it used to be the Women’s Royal Volunteer Service but is attempting an acronymed rebranding to attract men), points out that the relationship is quite fluid. It’s not younger people looking after older people; most of the WRVS’s 40,000 volunteers are over 60. People move from one group to the other, so that an alcoholic might recover and start volunteering, or someone supporting widows and widowers might also be bereaved.