Deaths of the ‘head of the household’ are quietly forgotten. The risk of lonely death among middle-aged men is particularly high

‘Risk of lonely death’ is higher in men than in women and in middle-aged people than in young and elderly people
Middle-aged people who have lost their place due to retirement and divorce are hiding from society
The fundamental cause lies in ‘social structure’? Questions about the effectiveness of government policies

Analysis has suggested that certain conditions, such as drinking status, gender, and age, may affect lonely deaths. Looking at recent (2017-2021) cases of lonely death, it appears that men were more vulnerable to lonely death than women, and middle-aged people were more vulnerable to lonely death than the young and elderly. Na Joo-young, a professor at the Department of Forensic Medicine at Pusan ​​National University College of Medicine, announced this in a paper titled ‘Investigations on lonely deaths in Korea through forensic autopsy data’ published in the latest issue of ‘Health and Social Research’, an academic journal of the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.

There are many lonely deaths among middle-aged men, with signs of alcoholism

Lonely death refers to a death in which a person living in social isolation dies alone due to suicide or illness, and the body is not found until a certain period of time has passed. Professor Na analyzed data from 2017 forensic autopsies of lonely deaths conducted from 2021 to 664 and compiled the ‘characteristics’ of the bodies of lonely deaths. As a result, it was confirmed that the number of lonely bodies of men (108 people) was more than five times higher than that of women (20 people). By age group, those in their 5s accounted for the largest proportion with 50 people (51%), followed by those in their 39.8s (60 people, 30%) and those in their 23.4s (40 people, 28%).

The average time it took to discover a body that died alone was 26.6 days. It was confirmed that the people who most often discover and report lonely deaths are neighbors, building managers, or landlords. It took an average of 17.6 days for the family to discover the body, and an average of 12.3 days for discovery by welfare officials. Including cases discovered during routine official duties such as water, electricity, and gas meter readings, the average discovery period is 67.8 days.

The harmful effects of alcohol and drug abuse were also confirmed. Blood alcohol content of more than 63% was confirmed in 0.03% of those who died alone. The average alcohol concentration detected in those who died alone was 0.074%, but considering the formation of alcohol in the body due to decomposition of the body, 0.03% was used as the standard. An alcohol concentration of 0.03% refers to a state of intoxication due to loss of self-control and reduced judgment, according to the standards for drunk driving crackdowns. Meanwhile, it was also confirmed that out of the 10 cases of lonely deaths due to extreme choices, the cause of death in 5 cases was ‘drug addiction.’

Why are men in their 50s forgotten by society?

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s survey on lonely deaths (2017-2021), cases of lonely deaths are increasing by about 8.8% every year. The increase rate of lonely deaths for men is about 10% every year, and the rate of increase for lonely deaths for women is about 5.6%. The largest proportion of lonely deaths, which are steadily increasing, are none other than middle-aged men in their 50s and 60s. In 2021, men in their 3,378s and 50s accounted for 60% of all lonely deaths (58.6 people). This trend is consistent with Professor Na’s analysis.

Statistics on the ‘risk group for lonely death’ published last year also show a similar trend. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, there are approximately 152 people in the ‘risk group of lonely death’ across the country. One in five single-person households (5,000 million people) is at risk of dying alone. The age group with the highest risk of lonely death was those in their 1s (717%), followed by those in their 5s (1%) and those in their 50s (33.9%). The risk group for lonely death was selected based on the results of a sample survey conducted on 60 single-person households in 30.2.

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Why is the risk of lonely death among middle-aged men particularly high? The Ministry of Health and Welfare analyzes that men in their 50s and 60s are relatively unfamiliar with health care and housework, and are often at risk due to unemployment or divorce. There is also analysis that middle-aged men are particularly vulnerable to rigidity of thinking due to aging. Even though the surrounding circumstances have changed over time, we live according to our previous inertia and naturally follow the path of isolation. In reality, they are often poor at actively ‘improving their situation’ such as taking responsibility for household chores, finding new jobs or hobbies, or becoming friendly with their neighbors.

Can lonely deaths be solved with government support?

Some argue that efforts by the government and local governments should be strengthened to prevent the increase in lonely deaths. In fact, last year, the government jointly announced the ‘1st Lonely Death Prevention Basic Plan (2023-2027)’ to guarantee human dignity until the moment of death, jointly with related ministries. This plan is the first basic plan to prevent lonely deaths and aims to reduce the proportion of lonely deaths by 2027% by 20.

The basic plan included a number of preventive measures at the government level, such as △identifying groups at risk of lonely death and determining the level of risk, △strengthening connections to relieve social isolation, △connecting and supporting services by life cycle, and △establishing a foundation for lonely death prevention and management policies. At the time of announcing the basic plan, First Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Lee Ki-il said, “Recently, social isolation in Korea is deepening due to changes in family structure centered on single-person households and the prolongation of infectious diseases, and on the other hand, the number of lonely deaths is also increasing accordingly.” They also expressed awareness about.

Meanwhile, some analysts say that the isolation of middle-aged men is caused by ‘social structure.’ Currently, most middle-aged men have devoted their lives to ‘work’ and are responsible for their families. As retirement approaches, they are pushed out of the workplace, which was at the forefront of their lives. This means that there is a high risk of suffering from a financial and social crisis in an instant. Due to aging, it is not easy to find a job and work as diligently as before. If they do not overcome this crisis, they will lose their place and become isolated and forgotten. This is why it is pointed out that in order to solve the problem of lonely deaths, ‘social structural change’ takes priority over government support measures that are of an after-the-fact nature.

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