Posts Tagged ‘Loneliness’

Living alone and dying alone: a dark side to longevity

December 21, 2021

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


Covid-19 and dwindling peers but, paradoxically, less loneliness

May 24, 2021

The data is still accumulating but it does seem globally that around 80% of all deaths due to Covid-19 are of those over 70 years old. In Sweden, 89% of deaths are of those over 70; in the US, 82% of deaths are of those over 65. Males are more likely to die of Covid or Covid induced conditions than females. All over Europe longevity statistics have been noticeably affected. Male longevity has reduced by close to 1.5 years and female longevity by about half that (c. 0.8 years).

My peers were dwindling anyway but they are dwindling faster due to Covid. Over the last year, eleven friends on my “frequently mailed list” (c. 4.5%) have disappeared (not all due to Covid).  But the paradox is that loneliness has not increased. The enforced physical self-isolation has led to a massive increase in digital contact methods. (I do not mean social media which I find more trouble than it is worth). Zoom calls, video calls, on-line contacts leading to more direct video and audio calls, have all increased markedly. I have seen and talked to many people – some after many years – who I probably would not otherwise have done. I have seen and talked to relative strangers by video calls which I would not otherwise have done. I have made new friends.

I wrote the post below about 3 years ago but I am – paradoxically – more hopeful about combating loneliness now. Not social media but digital/video contact could be the medium for mitigation. Surprisingly, and even though my peers continue to dwindle, the last year has demonstrated ways of maintaining contact and even of forging increased contact with younger generations. I see that apartment designs are already beginning to include a work-from-home space. Old-age and care homes will need to design-in digital, voice-activated, video contact facilities to a much greater degree than they do. Video contact cannot replace physical proximity but it could provide a tool to battle loneliness.

Dwindling peers or The loneliness of the long-distance survivors

Of those aged 50, the annual mortality rate is about 300/100,000. By the age of 60 this has increased to about 800/100,000 and then increases sharply to around 25,000/100,000 by 90 and encompasses virtually everybody by the age of 100. (There are currently about 300,000 people world-wide who are 100 years old and a handful who have reached 115 years old). On average women live around 4 -5 years longer than men.

Defining “peers” to be those of a similar age, I assume that most people probably reach a maximum number of peer-acquaintances at a little over the age of 50. In my own case I would guess that this was probably when I was around 55.

An increasing mortality then applies to a dwindling cohort of peer-acquaintances. The longer one survives the faster one’s peer-acquaintances shrivel.

Setting peer-acquaintances to be 100% at 50 (and ignoring accretion of new peer acquaintances), their number has dropped to around 80% at 70, and have halved by the time one has reached 80. At our 50th school graduation anniversary when we were all around 65, around 10% of our classmates had passed away. By the age of 90, peer-acquaintances have dwindled to less than 10% of those who were alive at 50. Those who live to 95 have virtually no acquaintances of their own age left alive.

When all your email is only spam

January 27, 2018

Looking at some old class photographs I realised that about 15% of my school class has passed away.


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