The Seoul Metropolitan Government has announced countermeasures against “lonely death,” as the number of people dying alone and not being discovered until significantly later has surged from 285 in 2013 to 366 in 2017 in the capital.
Over 2 million single-person and two-person households account for 54 percent of all households in Korea.
The city believes the best way to prevent lonely death is by establishing social relationships. In November last year, an elderly person with dementia was found dead in a small studio apartment in a southwest neighborhood of Seoul by a member of the Caregiving Services for Neighbors organization. Without the organization, the death could have gone unnoticed indefinitely.
In 2017, the City of Seoul conducted a trial operation of Caregiving Services for Neighbors in Gasan-dong, which is highly concentrated with small apartments, Daehak-dong, where many people hole up to study for tests, and in Hagye 1-dong, a rental housing area. Neighborhood representatives and community committee members were assigned for the program. In 2018, the city selected 26 areas in 17 districts to expand the range of the service.
The city will provide aid of up to 900,000 won ($843) a month for single-person households deemed at risk for such lonely deaths. It also seeks to dispatch welfare counselors to those households and offer medical support such as mental health assessment and treatment of chronic diseases. Alcoholism, depression, cirrhosis and diabetes contribute to 39 percent of lonely deaths, according to the City of Seoul.
Previously, bodies of people found dead with no identifiable family or friends were cremated without a funeral. Recently, though, civic organizations have advocated public health funerals in such cases, as well as for those of low income, to preserve the dignity of the deceased.
The City of Seoul implemented an ordinance to expand the coverage of public health funerals Thursday.
By Ahn Sang-yool (firstname.lastname@example.org)