SEOUL, Dec. 4 (Korea Bizwire) — “Lonely death” or “solitary death” stereotypically conjures up images of a greying, elderly person dying alone and unattended, their corpse lying in their room undiscovered for weeks on end, but figures collected by the health authorities suggest that men in their 50s, not 60 and 70-year olds, are most susceptible to what is widely seen as a social tragedy.
In 2013, 524 of the 3,343 cases of lonely deaths in Seoul (162 confirmed, 2,181 believed to be lonely deaths) involved those in their 50s. In contrast, 368 sexagenarians and 385 septuagenarians passed away in the same manner.
Lonely deaths were more prevalent amongst men than women. Of the 162 confirmed cases, men comprised 84.6 percent.
Lonely deaths are noticeably higher amongst those in their 50s even after considering age group population distributions. In Seoul, individuals in their 30s (1.76 million) and 40s (1.73 million) outnumbered their elders in their 50s (1.59 million) in 2013. And yet, lonely deaths in the 50s range occurred twice as often as they did for the 30s group.
Dr. Lee Ho-sun, the director of a senior citizens’ center, said, “It is a mistake to say that because the population of people in their 50s is high there are more lonely deaths.”
Lee added, “There has not been even one time [in the past] that there have been as many lonely deaths as there are in this current generation. What is occurring must be viewed as a societal phenomenon that is only of this time.”
When asked the reason why individuals in their 50s, particularly men, are more at risk, Lee explained, “Middle-aged men are more easily exposed to socioeconomic changes due to situations like early retirement, divorce and bad health. Psychological despair and the difficulty in adapting to society can become causes.”
More and more middle-aged men shutting their doors to society is something that is being witnessed by healthcare workers on the front lines. One said, “Only five to six years ago, the people that had severed communication with the rest of society were elderly, but nowadays it seems as though there has been a sharp increase of people in their 40s and 50s.”
Lonely deaths are most often marked by extreme isolation and difficult financial circumstances. Often the deceased are discovered not by friends or family but by neighbors or strangers like package delivery workers.
One example is the passing of 57-year old former actress, who was discovered dead in her Gangnam apartment by police two weeks after her passing. The police had arrived to investigate after a complaint was lodged regarding a bad smell.