SEOUL-- More elderly people are dying lonely deaths as society ages and families are being replaced by single-person households, data showed Sunday.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 1,232 people who died last year had no family members who could be contacted. The number of such deaths has been gradually rising, from 693 in 2011 to 741 in 2012, 922 in 2013, 1,008 in 2014 and 1,245 in 2015. It marks a 77.8 percent increase over the past five years.

Some 24.6 percent of these people were in their 60s, 23.6 percent in their 70s. Another 24.1 percent were in their 50s.

Ministry officials say that despite the growing numbers, there is no official legal definition or government policy that applies to these people, and the data are still largely sketchy.

"There are basic services, such as welfare workers regularly visiting single-person households of elderly people and the handicapped who are in the high-risk category," a ministry official said. "But even such people are not receptive to the idea of the government checking on them just because they are needy or because they live alone."

Welfare groups say that the government can help prevent lonely deaths by analyzing the seasonal and environmental factors and patterns to effectively implement preventive measures.

Source: Yonhap News Agency