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A cleaning worker prays in front of a stain on the floor of an apartment in Tokyo where the body of an 85 year-old man who lived alone was found after a month. Image: REUTERS file
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Around 68,000 elderly die alone in Japan annually: police

47 Comments

About 68,000 people aged 65 and over in Japan are estimated to die alone at home unnoticed annually, data collected by the National Police Agency indicated Tuesday.

Preliminary police figures showed 21,716 people nationwide died "lonely deaths" from January to March. Nearly 80 percent of that number, or 17,034 people, were aged 65 and over.

The police agency is expected to continue collecting the data as part of government efforts to tackle the issue, as the country is grappling with a rapidly greying society.

The government has in recent years stepped up efforts to combat social isolation and loneliness among people in Japan, including passing a law to address them in May 2023.

A lonely death is defined as one in which a person dies without anyone else witnessing it, with a certain period passing before the body is found, according to an interim discussion last year by a Cabinet Office working group tasked with looking into the issue.

The data on deaths at home among people living alone handled by police between January to March, including cases of suicide, showed the highest number was among those aged 85 and over, at 4,922 people.

Among people aged 75 to 79, there were 3,480 deaths recorded, while 3,348 people aged 80 to 84 were found to have died alone. Those aged between 70 and 74 who died solitary deaths totaled 3,204, followed by 2,080 people from 65 to 69 years of age.

© KYODO

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47 Comments
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Around 68,000 elderly die alone in Japan annually: police

Well, there is the old goth truism that we all die alone.

8 ( +19 / -11 )

Everybody dies alone - the only difference is some have witnesses, but the dead do not lament whether they died alone or not.

-6 ( +14 / -20 )

Sad state of affairs: I look out for the elderly in our neighborhood. It only takes a little effort to keep an eye on them. In some cases, they not only die alone but also remain undiscovered for months.

21 ( +26 / -5 )

While it might seem to be a sad way to go out of this world, I'm not really sure what the gov't can do to prevent these "lonely deaths". Unless they plan on building tons of Long Term Care facilities for these elderly people to live in, but at what cost, and who is going to work there?

11 ( +15 / -4 )

Imagine this: the gov't installs ChatBots in everyone deemed a "Lonely Death" risk. Daily conversations required with the CB, and if nothing after, say two days, someone is dispatched to check. Someone? More like a camera installed in the residence...

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

The bigger problem is what type of assistance or how often they were in contact with social services people prior to their dying.

Many live alone, and while it's sad that they die alone, the numbers here are only used for shock value.

-10 ( +5 / -15 )

I look out for the elderly in our neighborhood.

This is a large part of the problem. Elderly looking after elderly, eventually all will be unable to continue "looking after" each other.

Municipal offices MUST step up and do their jobs in keeping in contact with elderly who live alone. Yeah it may be OK for the elderly to keep an eye out for each other, but it isnt their responsibility.

-3 ( +8 / -11 )

You die alone. Even if you’re surrounded at your death bed by your caring spouse, children and grandchildren, they won’t go with you to the next world. You go alone.

-7 ( +6 / -13 )

As long as people have the choice of being more involved socially toward the end of their life, I think living alone is not necessarily a bad thing. Accepting that the end is near is actually a good thing.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Sure we die alone in reality but this story is a metaphor for the atomisation of life.

-2 ( +11 / -13 )

My Grannie used to open her curtains or blinds every morning so a kind neighbour across the road could see she was OK for that day.

Something similar here perhaps.....flip a little notice board on your door each morning.

"Not dead yet " or similar.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

This says to me that there are serious flaws in Japanese culture.

-20 ( +5 / -25 )

GuruMick has an excellent idea. If such an action as he suggests were to be done, then, in a situation like that, it would be an excellent way to help. As for me, I'd rather die alone. Why make someone watch you die? I watched my baby sister die and it ain't pretty. Just let me go.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

There's a reason that you can buy a four litre bottle of Shochu, or even bad scotch whiskey, for 20 bucks at your local drug store. There's a lot of old geezas residing in a box somewhere with very little to live for. At least they get to drink themselves to an early grave, but it's a horrid way to go. Lot of lonely people out there in the culture of harmony. Out of sight out of mind. The way the divorces happens here too, when one of the spouses often severs ties completely with the family and children certainly doesnt help either.

Wouldn't like to be the public worker that finds, cleans and buries these old lost souls for a living. That would do anyones head in.

Love the ones your with folks, we do all die alone but there's good deaths and bad ones.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

Many empathetic comments here.

Yes, the above sentence is sarcasm.

Most of you have little idea what leads up to a person’s final moments.

In due time that mystery will reveal itself.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

So dying not alone but surrounded by attackers, hospital staff, other similar accident victims and all such is better? I mean, your ideal case of dying happily and surrounded by family members or a loved person holding your hand and talking warm words of good-bye, that's really the rarest of all possible scenarios. But I would agree that this topic is more a synonym for the single and atomized 'modern' society as a whole.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Where in the world are their families?! I thought Japan was a country that respected and cared for their elderly people.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

“ The police agency is expected to continue collecting the data as part of government efforts to tackle the issue, “

If you wanna tackle this issue, ask the right questions—why were they alone(?), how did they end up like that(?).

“ A lonely death is defined as one in which a person dies without anyone else witnessing it, with a certain period passing before the body is found, “

Hard to find someone who’s completely alone in this world. There’s always someone out there. Even if your relatives are living in the city and you’re alone in inaka, there’s this thing called phone. It’s possible that more than half of these people didn’t get along with their sons and daughters. Again, ask the right questions.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Very sad story.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The only concerning part is if they die and they arent found for months on end.

-9 ( +0 / -9 )

My late colleague died alone. We only found out days later as she didn't show up for work after a long weekend. I cried for days.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Yubaru

I look out for the elderly in our neighborhood.

> This is a large part of the problem. Elderly looking after elderly, eventually all will be unable to continue "looking after" each other.

I am not looking after them. I am looking out for them. So in your book being a good neighbor isn't wanted. When we meet we stop and talk.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Most of people have smartphones, perhaps the city government could develop an app for the elderly people to voluntarily adopt, to confirm daily that they are OK or not, and so, a social assistant could call or visit in the case of absence, no interaction. To have a dead body found after a long time sounds very cruel, some may die quickly but some may had a slow death that could be avoided if proper help could be provided in time. Life is sacred.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

Since 2020, it has worse because of social distancing and the "stay home save lives" narrative.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

We all die alone.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

A friend’s Japanese MIL was hospitalized on Mothers Day and as she’s elderly and lives alone it took multiple calls by the ambulance drivers to find a hospital who’d take her. She said her two brothers had their kids babysat by MIL for years yet they did not even bother picking up when she phoned and texted them for help. What is wrong with these people?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

At the Hubert Humphrey Building dedication, Nov. 1, 1977, in Washington, D.C., former vice president Humphrey spoke about the treatment of the weakest members of society as a reflection of a government:

“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

3 ( +6 / -3 )

GuruMick

My Grannie used to open her curtains or blinds every morning so a kind neighbour across the road could see she was OK for that day.

> Something similar here perhaps.....flip a little notice board on your door each morning.

> "Not dead yet " or similar.

Here is the opening of the shutters. One day the elderly neighbor at our rear didn't open her shutters. We spoke with another who had her phone number and it turned out she was alright. But she expressed appreciation that someone cared about her. Little things make people happy.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

The title of this article seems to assume that there are people who do not die alone. However, I know that everyone dies alone, nobody can accompany you to the "other side." I would suggest, a title like: "68,000 elderly die without being watched by a single friend."

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

Not surprising, and often they’re decomposing in their homes for weeks before being noticed.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

A friend’s Japanese MIL was hospitalized on Mothers Day and as she’s elderly and lives alone it took multiple calls by the ambulance drivers to find a hospital who’d take her. She said her two brothers had their kids babysat by MIL for years yet they did not even bother picking up when she phoned and texted them for help. What is wrong with these people?

My own thought on reading this story was "I wonder how many of these people dieing alone have children". I suspect it may be higher than most people would guess.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

As more people choose to remain single or get married and not have children this problem will increase.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Perhaps those living alone can be encouraged to keep a pet or take in one from the animal shelters?

I've heard that those who keep pets tend to live longer because they know they have someone who depends on them.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Where in the world are their families?!

There are a million reasons for that.

Moving to Japan you're not neccessarily looking after your parents are you?

We lived for many years in my in-laws' house and while it was fun and super exciting always having someone in the kitchen to chat with, the location wasnt necessarily convenient (15min. from the station in a suburban area with narrow roads in the Osaka outskirts) so we moved.

When people move to Tokyo its very hard for them to come back, especially when you're settled with a nice job and good neighborhood.

Now I'm working to provide a spacious, well located place my kids can always call home, almost as an investment to lower our chances of living alone/too far from them when they grow up.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

I am not looking after them. I am looking out for them

"look out for" means to be watchful and make sure a friend or someone else does not get hurt.

So, as I said, the "elderly" you, are in fact looking after them, because it is physically impossible to be keeping a watchful eye on all your neighbors, when you have to take care of yourself too.

It is physically impossible

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

Guess what, when you have so few children, one or none, and social distance is high because you cared about work only, nothing surprising.

My grandparents died not "alone".

And my parents will not die alone.

It is all about love and friendship you gave before.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

As more people choose to remain single or get married and not have children this problem will increase.

And this will grow as one of their greatest regrets in life.

And this has nothing to do with hopes of be taken care of.

There is nothing really "new" after you hit your 30s. A newborn gives you a whole new life ahead.

It's terrifying just to imagine someone getting old and dying without even knowing about this 2nd life.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Yubaru

I am not looking after them. I am looking out for them

> "look out for" means to be watchful and make sure a friend or someone else does not get hurt.

> So, as I said, the "elderly" you, are in fact looking after them, because it is physically impossible to be keeping a watchful eye on all your neighbors, when you have to take care of yourself too.

> It is physically impossible

It's important to look out for our neighbors, whether they're elderly individuals living alone, young children going to or from school, or mothers pushing a stroller with groceries. In my community, if we don't see an elderly person for a few days, it's normal to check on them by asking another neighbor or the chairman of the residents' association. I don't understand why you would think that's physically impossible.

I assume you are singling out my comments since you haven't responded to any others.

What happens where you live? You don't care for your neighbors. Shame.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

In my neighborhood, we have a "community bulletin board" that contains information about our community and updates from the city. It's circulated a couple of times per week, with each household receiving it and then passing it on to the next household within a designated group. If a household doesn't receive it, it would be noticeable.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

tjguyToday  08:52 am JST “ Where in the world are their families?! I thought Japan was a country that respected and cared for their elderly people. “

That’s still true… and maybe that’s part of the problem… maybe that’s why they end up alone. The amount of respect and consideration that you need to show for older people in this country can be unhealthy. If you feel and act like everyone owns you something, you’re probably a difficult, annoying person—difficult people can be hard to deal with.

Also, generally speaking, Japanese parents have very high expectations for their kids and not everyone can meet those expectations. Some people need to ask themselves why they are alone and why, in some cases, their own families don’t want to be with them. That’s why I said what I said in my previous post. But, of course, some people are just lonely.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Where in the world are their families?

Perhaps they have none. While 68,000 seems a large number, there are over 1.5 million deaths per year in Japan.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@ Jonathan Prin

Your sentiments are extremely pertinent!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

This serious issue is not even considered at present Japanese society where ageism is rampant.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

We all need govt for of and by the people which means serve today's and tomorrow country needs. Sadly most politicians become celebrities forgetting purpose of govt of NON-PROFIT ENTITY. Cap wealth of super riches, amount beyond limit go into fund for supports of All citizens (healthcare, EDU, housing, senior care, include universal income (no citizens s/b in poverty).

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@Jonathan Prin Are you saying those who died alone should blame no one but themselves for having no one to look after them because they had few children or none at all because they was too consumed with working? Have you ever thought that those who didn't have children were perhaps unable to have them? Have you thought about those who had children did have them but because of the dynamics of the way the cities they lived changed, from perhaps farming and small manufacturing communities and their children had no choice but to move to the bigger cities. You say you are not surprised, what surprises me is your inability to understand the simple reasons of why we just can't blame those dying alone for not having children or having fewer children. Yes when you grandparents died its great they didn't die alone and you say your parents will not die alone. My question is how do you KNOW this, you might die before them!! Now that is a logical true statement regardless of how much love and friendship you gave. It seems you are asking for a reward that you too might not get because you will never know!

Guess what, when you have so few children, one or none, and social distance is high because you cared about work only, nothing surprising. My grandparents died not "alone". And my parents will not die alone. It is all about love and friendship you gave before.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Maybe consider legalized euthanasia

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Chibakun Today  03:20 am JST

Maybe consider legalized euthanasia

Really not going to free up space in elder care facilities.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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