January 05, 2019 08:39
Around one in five elderly Koreans have little if any social contact, the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs said in a study.
Based on a survey of more than 10,000 people, it concluded that up to 1.54 million of the country's estimated 7.38 million elderly people or 20.9 percent take part in no social activities, be it travel, study, hobby, social or political gatherings, volunteering or worship.
It often makes a drastic change from their previous working life when they suddenly find themselves without any social interaction. Major factors were distant relations with their family or the death of spouses and friends.
KIHASA's Kang Eun-na said, "State-led measures are needed to prevent isolation of senior citizens from becoming a severe social problem."
The study found that the most socially inactive elderly tended to have little education and lived alone, with the threat of isolation rising the older the person got. Women have it tougher than men.
Even among those with no mental or physical difficulties, one in six said they have no social life. Lee Sam-sik at Hanyang University said, "People over 65 dedicated their youth to work and children, so they often do not feel the need to engage in social activities which could help them to live life to the fullest."
Lack of social interaction, according to the study, raises the risk of depression and dementia and thus the potential for suicide or being found dead alone.
Many government institutions do try to help such people. The Ministry of Health and Welfare provides some home visits to the elderly in need while running an automated alarm system that informs the nearest help center in any emergencies.
Yet policy alone cannot help the isolated elderly. A voluntary worker said some elderly people refuse any help from volunteers and social workers and simply will not allow visits to their home.
Lee Ho-seon, a counselor who runs a help center for the elderly said, "The younger generation can get an idea of their future by seeing how the older generation lives, and by letting the elderly take a more active role in social activities, youngsters can look forward to a better future and live more positively when they themselves grow old."
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