Living alone and dying alone: a dark side to longevity

This story is from Swedish Television (SvT) about the increasing number of people found dead in their homes long after they have died. I suspect it is not an uncommon story in modern societies where longevity has increased sharply in the last 100 years. Western Europe and Japan are also places where the twin challenges of aging and population decline will be the new challenges for society. But the loneliness of the elderly is primarily a consequence of longevity. I also suspect that it may be somewhat accentuated in Sweden where the fixation on youth may be the reason for the elderly gradually becoming second class citizens.

Homes for the elderly have become places where people are sent to be forgotten and to slowly fade away without any fuss. Here too they actually die alone even though they may be surrounded by strangers within a faceless system of care.

SvT News:

SVT’s survey shows that since 2018, more than 400 people have been found lying dead in their homes at least a month after having passed away. Over ten of these had been dead for more than a year before they were found. “Many times dogs are found dead right next to their master or mistress. Animals are very faithful”, says Östen Sahlén, who has been transporting corpses for half a century. He faces death every work shift when he picks up deceased people on behalf of, among others, the Police Authority. They are often people who have been dead for a long time.

“It can vary from days, weeks, months or years. The longest I’ve been through was a person who had been lying dead for three years”. His rent had been fully paid by direct debit. SVT followed a pick-up in Nynäshamn where a body was to be transported to Stockholm for an autopsy. “The smell, this sweet and sour smell you come across. I don’t think you can really get used to it, you can live with it but not be unaffected by it”, says Östen Sahlén.

In November, a deceased man was found in southern Stockholm – and the indications are that he lay dead there for over two years. The rent was paid via direct debit and the landlord Stockholmshem said that therefore they had had no reason to contact the man. The bailiff, on the other hand, tried to get in touch with him in the autumn of 2019 due to an unpaid TV fee. When they did not receive an answer, they instead went into his account and collected the money. By then, the man was probably already dead.

SVT’s survey, using data from the National Board of Forensic Medicine, shows that over 400 people had died in their homes at least a month before they were found during the years 2018 to 2020. More than 100 had lain dead for over three months and at least ten for over a year before they were found.

“There can be piles of mail and advertising inside the doors that we need to move away to get in. This is the dark side of society. I feel a need to pick up those people so that they do not have to lie there in their loneliness. I do not think you should have to disappear in this way”, says Östen Sahlén. A case that has received much attention in recent years concerns a man in his 80s who was found dead in his apartment on Södermalm in Stockholm in the autumn of 2019. He had been dead for almost four years.


Dwindling peers or the loneliness of the long-distance survivors



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