Call for neighbours to keep eye on elderly

·2-min read

He died as he lived - alone and invisible. So invisible, no one knew how long ago he died, though it might have been as much as six months.

The 83-year-old "elderly, frail and reclusive" Tasmanian man, who was estranged from his family and had no friends, was discovered by a Community Housing officer during a visit in December 2020, a coroner found.

He was lying in bed.

A year earlier the man had discharged himself from hospital where he was being treated for a heart attack because he "wanted to die at home" and medical intervention was "a waste of time at his age".

The coroner made no criticism of the government service, or the neighbours who didn't query his absence.

Families don't feel the same sense of obligation to look out for one another, says Tasmania's director of the Red Cross, Sharon Wachtel.

"It's a sign of how our lives have changed. Decades ago families ... communities were much more connected. That shifts the responsibility," Ms Wachtel tells AAP.

"We've built a swathe of services to replace that disconnection, which is a good thing, but it doesn't cover all the bases and it doesn't replace neighbours knowing neighbours."

It can sometimes be a tricky balance to strike between being supportive and intrusive, Older Persons Advocacy Network CEO Craig Gear says.

"Sometimes individuals are living in isolation by choice.

"An older person has the right to choose how they are going to live and to have the right to privacy, which is a fundamental human right."

It's important to have the conversation with the individual, to make sure they are aware of all available services and to build trust with them, he adds.

But it is also down to everyday Australians to simply pay more attention.

"When you can see the neighbour's bin has been out for a couple of weeks, surely that's a trigger for us to actually say 'what's going on with my neighbour?'," Mr Gear says.

"Or that old man on the corner - haven't seen him for months, but we don't think about it. He's become invisible.

"How have we lost that village feeling that we had? We need to do better."

There are some simple steps to creating those supportive relationships with neighbours and to help battle isolation on the Red Cross website, Ms Wachtel adds.

"My mother had an arrangement with her neighbour - they would open up the curtains each morning and if the other's hadn't been opened they'd check in," she says.

"Simple steps could make all the difference to outcomes like at this coronial inquiry."

Mr Gear says sometimes the simplest measures are the most effective.

"There is nothing better than knocking on that door of that neighbour and saying - can I get anything down the shops?" he says.

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