I hear that the latest government pronouncement is that loneliness is the biggest danger for “old people”. They say that it is worse than obesity and tobacco!  “The answer,”  they say, ” is for people to stay working longer.”

As usual the government are making generalisations. This one I think, in my cynical way, is to save on pensions. Working does not necessarily diminish loneliness. Some people are quite self contained and prefer their own company. Others are shy and do not mix well, so they may go to work and return home and feel more lonely than ever knowing that their work colleagues have a more sociable life.

Being alone is not the same as being lonely and we are all different in the way we react to being alone.  When I was at home alone when Jennie was at university and JW was working, I was quite contented working in my garden and listening to my radio. On the other hand I enjoyed having visitors. My neighbour, at the other end of the spectrum,  needed people around her and if she was left alone for more than a few hours would jump into her car and drive off to visit someone.

Of course if people are housebound they need visitors if only to check that they are not in need of help or care of one kind or another, but these people would not be able to go out to work anyway.

I remember one time in the 1980s, when I was doing agency nursing, and I was  specialling an elderly lady who had taken an overdose. I asked the nurse I took over from whether they knew why she had done this, (she had taken a huge mixture of pills, so it was not likely to have been accidental) The nurse shrugged, looked at me as though I was strange to ask such a thing. That was when I realised that nurse training had changed from when I trained. I said, “Perhaps she was lonely.” “Oh no, she has sons and daughters,” she replied. I didn’t argue but having children doesn’t mean that they visit, or even keep in touch and this must be much harder to cope with than for those like my old housemistress (a childless spinster)  who had a great variety of interests, some involved with other people and some pursued alone. She was not anti-social and always made me welcome when I visited, but she was comfortable with her own company.

I think that governments are too prone to make these sweeping statements and lumping us all into groups, so if you are old and live alone, you must be lonely.  Maybe they have spent too long in PR and don’t realise that we are all individuals and react in different ways, so not all old people living alone are lonely, anymore than all benefits claimants are scroungers, all doctors and nurses are not angels who care for their patients or all parents care about education etc. etc.

I think this latest pronouncement is as flawed as their “happiness index”. How do you measure how happy you are? It varies from day to day. Something good happens or someone is kind to you and you feel happy. Something bad happens to you or your nearest and dearest and you feel sad. That is what life is all about some days good and some days bad.

Once more it depends on the individual, some are never satisfied with their lot and always envy someone else’s good fortune. Others are happy with very little and appreciate the simple things which most of us take for granted. we are all different.

What will the “think tanks” come out with next?

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