ST Jan 10, 2008The above event may seem sad and shocking. However as the years go, we may safely expect such incidents to become increasingly common in developed countries with an aging population. Oh yes, that includes Singapore.
Man's death goes unnoticed for a year in Sydney
SYDNEY - AN ELDERLY pensioner lay dead in his apartment in Australia's largest city for a year before anyone noticed, officials and news reports said on Thursday.
The body of Jorge Chambe, 64, was found on Tuesday in his single bedroom, government-owned flat in the Sydney suburb of Yagoona when police and firefighters broke in, after concerns about his welfare were finally raised.
Decomposition of the body was advanced and bank records indicated Chambe died about a year earlier, officials said.
'It's amazing,' Detective-Inspector Ian Prye told reporters. 'This guy lives in the suburbs and he dies and no one notices for a year.'
The circumstances of Chambe's death triggered calls for a national strategy to better check on elderly people living alone, and worry that Australians were losing their sense of community.
'How can it happen that a person can die in such a lonely way and no one know?' New South Wales state Housing Minister Matt Brown told the Macquarie Radio network on Thursday.
In news reports, neighbors at the apartment block described Chambe as a quiet man who was friendly but who kept mostly to himself. He had received federal government welfare payments and his rent was paid automatically by direct debit from his bank account.
His mailbox had filled to overflowing, but no one had noticed a smell or other clues that he had died, the reports said. A worried neighbour finally called housing officials on Monday, and authorities broke in when Chambe did not respond.
This is the simple consequence of having smaller families, or not having children. The older you grow, the likelier it becomes that you have no relatives at all. You just outlive those who used to be around. This isn’t that difficult, because there weren’t many of them to begin with.
In the 1960s, the average 30-something adult would have, say, one spouse, four children, six siblings, eighteen cousins and too many nephews, nieces and in-laws to easily count.
In 2008, the average 30-something adult would have, say, one or no spouse; one, two or no children; and maybe one or two siblings, each likely to have one, two or no children.
So nowadays, the probability of outliving all your relatives (or all relatives who care about you) is much higher.
During the working years, loneliness is not an issue because working life itself provides a human community comprising bosses, peers, subordinates, clients etc.
Senior citizens, while healthy, can also maintain a social network. They move around on their own, pursue their interests and meet other people (mahjong kaki; qigong group; community club etc).
But over the years, the individual gradually grows older and weaker, and becomes less and less able to participate. He therefore slowly withdraws himself from society. Eventually, he becomes so disconnected from other human beings that he could die (as Jorge Chambe did), and for a whole year, no one would even notice.
To me, Jorge’s story is sad not because he died and his death went unnoticed for a year. The sad part is really more how he must have lived, in the years before he died.