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Patricide highlights pressure on caregivers

Feb 23,2019
Concern for the welfare of caretakers is growing after a man in his 40s in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, took his own life after killing his ailing father, who he had been taking care of for the past decade.

According to Cheongju Police, a pedestrian found a 49-year-old man collapsed and bleeding on Wednesday at an apartment complex’s flower bed. The man was pronounced dead while being transported to the hospital, presumably due to his severe injuries.

Police found the body of his 85-year-old father at his apartment about a kilometer away. The body had strangulation marks around his neck.

The son’s suicide note was found at the home. It read that he would “take [his] father along,” in what appeared to be an admission that he killed his own father.

A subsequent investigation by police found that the son had been taking care of elderly father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, for around a decade by himself. He quit his job in Seoul and separated from his wife to devote himself completely to the task.

According to relatives, his father had difficulty moving around, and his condition recently worsened due to heart problems. Police believe the man decided to strangle his father to death then committed suicide by jumping from the window of his own apartment.

“[The man] was known by those around him as a dutiful son who dearly cared for his father,” a police spokesman said. “He had no financial difficulties, but his decision looks like it was motivated by his father’s declining condition.”

An autopsy is currently under way on the two bodies, but police say they are likely to close the investigation without prosecuting the case as all those involved are already deceased.

This tragedy, certainly not the first of its kind, testifies to a growing phenomenon in Korea’s aging society, which experts have termed “caretaker murder.” This refers to when those caring for their sick loved ones for a prolonged period kill them out of exhaustion or desperation.

The phenomenon was first exhibited in the 1980s in Japan, when the country’s elderly population began to rise rapidly. In Korea, where the elderly now account for 14 percent of the population, more and more similar cases have been reported in recent years.

On New Year’s Eve last year, the bodies of a woman in her 40s and her mother in her 70s were found at a home in Goyang, Gyeonggi. According to the police, the mother had received multiple surgeries for cancer and had shown symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The daughter was believed to have killed her mother and then committed suicide due to exhaustion.

Not all cases of caretaker murder involve the elderly. In Seoul early last month, a girl suffering from a mental illness and her mother were both found dead. The mother’s suicide note read that she could no longer bear the difficulties caused by her daughter’s symptoms, which included hallucinations.

According to medical experts, long-term care for a patient can overwhelm their caretakers, bringing on not only physical and economic burdens but also issues like depression or the breakdown of family relationships.

“These issues appear to be arising from the fact that our society is rapidly transitioning into an elderly society without proper preparation,” said Kwak Keum-joo, a professor of psychiatry at Seoul National University. “Measures need to be implemented, and fast.”

BY CHOI JONG-KWON, PARK JIN-HO AND SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]