Coroner's concern at increase in "old and alone" deaths
- 14 October 2010
- From the section Wales
Concerns have been raised about the number of pensioners dying alone at home and laying undiscovered for weeks.
A coroner spoke out at an inquest into the death of a 70-year-old woman whose body was belatedly found by neighbours at her home in Dolgellau, Gwynedd.
He called it a "sad reflection on society".
Ruth Marks, Older People's Commissioner for Wales, said that "companionship and support" were important for older people.
The inquest on Tuesday heard Joan Easterbrook lived alone, did not socialise and had not visited her doctor for years when she died in March.
Speaking at the inquest, North West Wales coroner Dewi Pritchard Jones said: "It is a sad reflection on the society that we live in that elderly people who live alone, and die alone, are only discovered when neighbours realise that there is a bad smell coming from the property.
"It is a sad indictment on society where there is an increasing number of cases like this and one wonders whether society should be looking after its elderly better that it does."
He said it was fair to call Ms Easterbrook a recluse, even though she lived in an urban area.
Despite this, he was surprised her death would go unnoticed in a "small" community.
The coroner said he had seen an increase in the number of elderly people dying alone and laying undiscovered for weeks.
In the past year, Mr Pritchard Jones has held an inquest into the death of Brenda Williams, 68, who was found on the stairs at her home in Dolgellau last September.
Her body went undiscovered for two months.
Mr Pritchard Jones said: "I have been a coroner for this area since 1982 and my gut feeling is that we have had an increase in these sorts of deaths over the past couple of years.
"I do find it surprising as this area is made up of small towns and villages where people tend to know each other so if a person is no longer seen they would be missed.
"It seems that is no longer the case."
A verdict of death by natural causes was recorded on Ms Easterbrook.
Following the inquest, Gwynedd county councillor Dyfrig Siencyn said: "It's a reflection that the community, like many others, is perhaps not as close as it once was.
"We are tending to live our own lives without impinging on other people. It's always a concern when things like this happen."
Age Cymru said one in two older people in Wales said the TV was their only company and one in ten older people in Wales spend Christmas alone.
Ruth Marks, Older People's Commissioner for Wales, said: "I am saddened to hear of Joan Easterbrook's death. Companionship and support are important for people of all ages, especially older people.
"We are keen to encourage the provision of high-quality support networks for older people in communities throughout Wales.
"We are aware of and support the Big Lottery Fund's campaign to encourage people of all ages to volunteer as befrienders for older people in their community.
"In the 21st Century it is sad to think that there are still many older people who live alone with no support or social interaction on a regular basis.
"This is something that must be challenged and I actively promote joined up thinking between organisations and bodies to combat this issue."