September 1, 2010

KOREA: Within a year, emergency care services for 27,000 seniors living alone

SEOUL, Korea / The Korea Herald / National News / September 1, 2010

More support for elderly people living alone

By Lee Ji-yoon

One day last year, an elderly man living alone in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province took a sleeping pill, forgetting that he was boiling soup on a gas range.

Even though the fire alarm rang, he, surnamed Kim, didn’t wake up.

Luckily, firefighters arrived and saved Kim after an emergency system installed at his house alerted the local fire station.

Since the government started an emergency care system for seniors living alone in three regions two years ago, a total of 962 fires have been reported as of July, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Gas-leakages and emergency calls totaled 76 and 958, respectively, the ministry said.

Amid a surge in senior citizens living on their own here, the ministry said Wednesday that it will extend the beneficiaries of the emergency care system to 27,000 elderly people in 18 regions nationwide within the year.

Current services include fire and gas-leakage detection sensors and beepers for emergency calls so that an urgent situation is reported automatically to a local emergency management agency.

Activity detection sensors and “going-out” buttons also allow welfare officials to check if seniors continue their social activities.

The ministry said new services would be added this year such as free phone calls with any two relatives or friends and a “telecare system,” which traces their outdoor location through cell phones.

The ministry will install the system within the year, aiming to help up to 150,000 people in the long term.

“The ministry plans to develop other facilities helpful to the safety of living-alone senior citizens and to find ways to give them emotional support in cooperation with the community,” a ministry official said.

The number of elderly people living alone exceeded 1 million for the first time this year, the Statistics Korea reported. More than 1.04 million seniors aged 65 or older live on their own as of July, up about 5.8 percent from a year earlier. They make up more than 10 percent of the age group.

By Lee Ji-yoon


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