Byline: BRENDAN HUGHES
THE number of elderly people dying alone in Wales with no relatives has been highlighted in figures obtained by the Western Mail.
Older people's charity Age Cymru warned that as Wales' population aged, the problem of loneliness was growing, with older men most at risk of isolation.
Figures from Welsh health boards show almost pounds 400,000 was spent over the past four years on holding funerals for patients with no traceable relatives - a problem the Beatles sang about in their 1966 hit Eleanor Rigby.
More than 620 funerals have been paid for by health authorities in Wales between 2008-09 and 2011-12 for patients who have died with no next of kin.
Welsh health boards are required to pay for patients' funerals if no relatives can be found, or when relatives are unable or unwilling to make their own arrangements.
Campaigners for the elderly have described the issue of loneliness among older people as "incredibly sad".
Older People's Commissioner for Wales Sarah Rochira told the Western Mail she would make tackling isolation one of her key priorities.
"I am not surprised by the increase in the number of older people dying alone, as reflected in the figures," she said. "Older people across Wales consistently raise with me issues of isolation and loneliness.
"For all too many older people, loneliness can be and is simply devastating. Within Wales, addressing loneliness and isolation are quite simply not the priorities they should be. We must get better at this.
"As Older People's Commissioner for Wales, this will be a key priority for me over the next four years."
She added: Older people often ask for so little, just a little friendship and a sense of hope - not a lot to ask and something that we as a society should be able to provide."
The figures were uncovered by the Western Mail following a series of Freedom of Information requests to Wales' health boards.
Aneurin Bevan Health Board, which covers South East Wales, spent the most on "Eleanor Rigby" funerals at a total of pounds 149,294 over the past four years. The health authority spent pounds 44,937 in 2011-12. In 2009-09 the total was pounds 28,347.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which covers North Wales, revealed 358 funerals were paid for by the authority from 2008 at a cost of pounds 70,286. The board said the majority of its funeral costs related to miscarried or stillborn babies, rather than elderly patients. Cardiff and Vale Health Board spent a total of pounds 21,127 last year on holding funerals for patients with …