Elderly couple's deaths: The pair had no 'Plan B'
BECOMING a burden in old age is something many people fear - but sadly a desire for independence can often also lead to a lonely, isolated death.
In the wake of the discovery of the bodies of Geoffrey and Anne Iddon, weeks after their deaths, experts have urged people to accept growing old as a fact of life, and plan accordingly.
Dr Maggie Haertsch said the welfare of the elderly was the responsibility of both the young and the old, who themselves need to "factor in the fact that they need some kind of support network".
While the Iddons were surrounded by a community who cared, neighbours said it was Mr Iddon's devotion to his frail, blind wife - and his desire to care for her himself - that ultimately led to her death, after he apparently died suddenly.
"The problem was Geoffrey didn't have a plan B, he didn't count on him dying before Anna and when he did she was left alone in the house and died after him," friend and neighbour Ivor Burgess said.
"The sad thing was he loved Anna so much, he thought they didn't need anyone. He thought he'd always be there for her."
Like Natalie Jean Wood, whose skeletal remains lay in her Surry Hills terrace for eight years, and Mavis Raines, who was dead for three years before her body was found in her Annandale home, the Iddons, both aged in their 80s, were what the police called "fiercely independent".
The couple, who had not spent a day apart in 61 years of marriage, were found dead in their multimillion-dollar Palm Beach mansion after friend and neighbour David Warren raised the alarm when mail he had left at their door was not collected.
Police believe retired engineer Mr Iddon, 83, died of natural causes up to three weeks ago and Mrs Iddon, 82, who also had dementia, died of starvation, unable to cope alone without her only carer.
Neighbours said that the couple's only daughter, living in the UK, was in a state of deep shock at their deaths.
Neighbours who had offered to shop, cook and clean for the couple in recent years said they were sometimes welcomed in, but also often turned away and told: "We've got each other, we're fine."
The couple, described as "eccentric" and "reclusive", also repeatedly rejected help from community services to clean and deliver meals.
Arts Health Institute executive director Dr Haertsch said while it was often hard for the elderly to accept help - and their right to privacy had to be respected - equally "it is important not to isolate ourselves".
While in 1996, there were 199,253 people in Australia aged 85 and older, by last year that figure was 322,851.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has predicted that by 2064 there will be 1.9 million people older than 85 - five per cent of the population.
"As you get older your world keeps getting smaller and smaller and the scourge of getting older is loneliness," Dr Haertsch said.
"Geoff could not bear to be separated from Anna and refused to put her in a care home."
"Society needs to think more broadly about including older people."
Elderly people were urged to ensure they had social or other networks to keep an eye on them.
The Red Cross' Telecross volunteers make a quick phone call daily to about 5000 elderly and housebound people. If the call goes unanswered three times in 30 minutes, they then call for help.
"There's also a responsibility on the community to make sure that people feel included and not excluded," Red Cross NSW executive director Jody Broun said.
When no one saw Natalie Wood from late 2003, neighbours thought the reclusive, single woman had gone to live with relatives. Her remains were found on her bedroom floor in 2011, after her sister-in-law, herself packing to move, discovered the deeds to the Surry Hills house.
The remains of Mavis Raines were found in her home in 1993, three years after the then-67-year-old was last seen.
Friend said the Iddons' story was of "a deep love that went sadly wrong in the end". They married in mid-1956 in Cheshire when she was 21 and he was 22.
They appear to have moved to Australia in the late 1970s, settling almost immediately in Palm Beach where they lived a low-key existence in the exclusive suburb.
Nine months ago, social workers told neighbours who were visiting Mr Iddon in hospital after he had broken his hand not to help the couple, in an attempt to force them to accept a care plan.
Neighbour Neen Weir said: "What do you do when they refuse help from us and community services? You have to keep helping so we did.
"Geoff could not bear to be separated from Anna and refused to put her in a care home. He adored her and said he would look after her until the end.
"They were happy in their own world. She wouldn't have wanted to live on without him."
A spokesman said the Northern Sydney Local Health District spokesman could not comment while the police investigated the couple's deaths.
A FIVE-MINUTE CHAT IS ALL IT TAKES
THERE might be a 62-year age gap between Lizzie Archer and Patricia Mitchell but that hasn't stopped them from forging a firm friendship.
Ms Mitchell, 81, recently moved into a retirement village while Ms Archer, 19, is a student. The pair bonded when they both volunteered with The Salvation Army, which reaches out to people in need.
Ms Mitchell, who said that the Archer family regularly checked in on her, said there were elderly people across the community who "just wanted someone to reach out and have a chat".
"Sometimes just a five-minute conversation with someone who is lonely can be just as meaningful as giving food to someone in hunger," Ms Mitchell said.
"It would be great to see more people reaching out."
"At our church everyone mixes with everyone, there's old ones friends with the young ones and it doesn't matter your age."
Ms Archer said she wanted to see more young people volunteering.
"I get the train to university and the other day I was noticing that I was the only person who didn't have their head in a phone," she said.
"It's sad but it's not just millennials, but middle-aged people who have become absorbed by technology."
"Sometimes just doing something simple can make someone's day."