A recent tragedy in Greater Tainan has highlighted a lack of welfare resources and the inadequacy of government programs to support home care and health services for senior citizens.
Yen Mei-yu (顏美裕), 75, and his wife, 70-year-old Yen Lin Mei (顏林梅), were found dead in Deyuanpi (德元埤), a water reservoir in Liouying (柳營), on Friday last week.
According to the family, Yen, who had high blood pressure but was in relatively good health, had been taking care of his wife, who had dementia and used a wheelchair. Although they were a loving couple and raised five children, at times the couple would quarrel, mostly over his care of the wife.
They lived with their youngest daughter, Yen Pao-nu (顏寶女), in a rented house. The daughter is unemployed and the three survived on NT$10,000 a month from their second son and the couple’s combined monthly pension of NT$7,000, police said.
“My parents had a lot of affection for each other, but my mother was often in a bad temper because of her illness, and at times she would shout loudly while having arguments,” Yen Pao-nu said. “My father was overburdened mentally and physically. He had talked of committing suicide a few times before, while telling my mother that if she kept on quarreling, they would commit suicide together.”
“Usually after they squabbled, my father would ride his motorcycle to clear his head. Sometimes, he would take my mother and go out for a while, but they always returned home safely. We never thought they would really kill themselves,” she said.
Yen Pao-nu said that late on Thursday she heard her parents bickering again. Later, as her father wheeled her mother out of the house, he reminded her to pay this month’s rent, she said.
When her parents did not return home, she waited until 1am on Friday and then called the police.
Police said they received a report of a wheelchair and a blanket on the banks of the Deyuanpi about 9am on Friday. Paramedics found Yen Mei-yu in shallow waters, while Yen Lin Mei’s body was found 10m away.
An autopsy found bruises on Yen Lin Mei’s face, leading police to suspect her husband tilted her out of the wheelchair and into the pond. Her bruises were likely due to hitting pond’s concrete embankment, the examining doctor said, adding that Yen Mei-yu must have jumped into the water later because the autopsy found Yen Lin Mei died earlier than her husband.
Officials with the Greater Tainan Government Department of Health’s Psychiatric Section said people with chronic illnesses are at high risk for suicide and that family caregivers are also under a lot of stress.
Family members and relatives should pay close attention to these people and give encouragement and support as necessary, the officials said.
Tan Nai-cheng (譚乃澄), head of the Care Service Management Center at the city’s Bureau of Social Affairs, said the city government provides two programs to help ease the burden of poverty-stricken families who have members with chronic illnesses. Tan said families in need of such service can call the Tainan Citizen Help Hotline, 1999, for more information.
The city government is also pushing a community project in which volunteers are encouraged at the grassroots levels to actively approach high-risk families and provide help and support, Tan said.