When I think of the over-70s I know, the first word that springs to mind is "busy". Some have part-time jobs. Some look after grandchildren full-time and go to the gym. One chairs a historical society, another looks after a spouse with memory problems. Some aren’t as mobile as they used to be but most see friends and family regularly. Until coronavirus, of course.

They are a mixture of the married, divorced and widowed. Some are lonely, others not. They live in different parts of the country, come from different socio-economic backgrounds, have different desires and goals.

So why are they being treated as one homogenous, vulnerable group, and condemned to an indefinite lockdown?

While it looks like those of us aged 69 and under may soon be allowed to restart our lives as part of the lockdown exit plan – albeit cautiously and while following social distancing measures – it seems the over-70s may be told by the Scottish and UK governments to keep self-isolating for up to 18 months. Maybe longer.

Such a blanket policy surely has ageism at its core, regardless of how well-intentioned. How else do you explain the assumption that everyone over the age of 70 is weak and incapable of making decisions about their own health and wellbeing?

The evidence from UK Covid-19 wards suggests the average age of a critically ill patient is 60. Nine out of 10 have underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity or type 2 diabetes. We also know, of course, this cruel illness can afflict, sometimes kill, young and fit people.

Until a vaccine is widely available – an endeavour scientists believe may take 18 months or more – many people with underlying health conditions of every age group will obviously want to take maximum care and precautions to prevent exposing themselves to danger. They accept, hard as it may be, that they won’t be able to leave home. Others won’t have the mental capacity to make these decisions for themselves.

But what about over-70s that are fitter, healthier and more active than their younger relatives and friends? And what about older people who do suffer from underlying health problems but would rather take a different approach once restrictions start to be lifted?

They may decide it is worth leaving home, spending time with grandchildren and friends, going shopping, even if it means an increased chance of catching the virus. They may be willing to accept the associated risks and consequences.

What’s so galling is the idea that no-one over 70 can or should decide for themselves what risks they are willing to take with their own health and wellbeing.

One of most interesting aspects of this crisis has been the way it has forced all of us to examine and question what makes life worth living. Many of us, myself included, will have come to the conclusion that social contact, time spent with other human beings, is the most precious thing in our lives.

This is certainly the case for most of the older folk I speak to (on the phone or digitally) now, especially those who have lost their partner and/or live alone. Spending time with children, grandchildren, siblings and pals is what keeps them going. It doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to work out that Skype and Zoom will only suffice for so long.

I was walking in an empty Glasgow city centre recently and the saddest thing of all was the absence of the cheery bands of elderly ladies and gents that usually frequent Sauchiehall Street on week days, comparing prices and purchases, enjoying a cuppa and a scone, or a pint. The thought of them home alone indefinitely, stoic as they may be, is heartbreaking. For some in care homes, extended isolation will be torturous.

It’s one thing ordering people to live without friends and family for a few weeks. It’s something else entirely telling them to do so for months, maybe years. Even for their own good. Some, especially those in the autumn of their lives, may understandably decide it is a sacrifice they are not willing to make.

There has been much talk recently about treating people like adults. This must include the over-70s, who, let’s face it, have been grown up for longer than anybody else.

To be clear, I am not advocating reckless breaking of current lockdown rules. I’m saying we need a sensible approach to what comes next, one that doesn’t discriminate against the elderly. One that ensures life is still worth living.

All columnists are free to express their opinions. They don’t necessarily represent the view of The Herald.