I’ve just spent a morning out on the streets delivering a batch of letters for my MP, in an unglamorous part of Stafford. Whenever I do this my mind is very occupied looking at the streets, and the individual houses, and the people that I see. On a weekday morning, not many people are around. Mainly just the elderly or the unemployed.

There are always some houses where things have got completely out of hand. You have to fight your way down the garden path. and squeeze past the evergreen tree that was put in as a miniature thirty years ago. Sometimes in the more extreme cases you step over bags of rubbish left out for some one who never collects.

This is rare. Mostly what I saw were old ladies living alone, finding it hard to get around but coping. Many of these ladies would be “poor”, living very modest lives on pensions, and benefit. What bothered me today is that they were all alone. The houses and flats that they lived in were designed at a time when people lived to their 70s if they were lucky. Most of these ladies were much older, with much less mobility than the property was really designed for, and they had no company.

I quite like my own company much of the time, but if I was alone like that, for day after day I do not know what it would do to me.

It is difficult to know what the right answers are here. The demographic charts of the population now and in 2050 are engraved on my mind. The population is ageing very fast, and what we are seeing now is simply the tip of the iceberg. I have just been reading the report by the Alzheimer’s society – “Counting the Cost” which looks at how bad it is for patients with dementia to have long stays in hospital, and advocates speedy discharge to the patient’s own home. In many ways I applaud this. I have seen the option of care homes with my mother, when it became too difficult to continue to care for her after the first 4 years of dementia. I would have liked then the help that is available now to have kept her out of a home.

I am glad that the health service and voluntary services are agreed about the aim of helping people to live independently for as long as possible. Home is best, but not home in isolation. I know that organisations like Age concern provide a superb service in collecting people to bring them to day centres, but I can’t help thinking we need something more than this.

If I were alone like this I am not sure that I would want to be fetched out of my home and bussed off to be looked after or entertained. But I would really love someone to come in and have a cup of tea for me on a regular basis!

We have had a couple of decades of thinking of family first and keeping ourselves to ourselves. I think for the sake of the growing numbers of really elderly old ladies we need to re-discover the art of being neighbourly and just popping in!

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