Suicide Among Elderly Not Just Normal Part of Aging

When a senior adult loses interest in daily activities or cuts back on social interaction, self-care or grooming, many will consider it just a sign of aging.

But the challenges may go considerably deeper. Each of these behaviors is considered a warning sign of suicide and, without help, the senior and his or her loved ones may unnecessarily suffer.

In 2014, the latest year for which such figures are available, those age 65 and older made up 14.5 percent of the population, but 18 percent of the suicides, reports the American Association of Suicidology. In addition, the highest suicide rate was among those ages 85 and older.

Yet here’s the problem: A sizable portion of the overall population, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), views youth suicide as a greater tragedy than late-life suicide. This way of thinking, then, works against effective outreach to the elderly and efforts to understand and treat their conditions. Research has shown that brief therapy can help—especially when combined with medication for depressive disorders. More than 80 percent of elderly patients in one study recovered from depression when treated this way, according to AAMFT.

Treatment, however, must begin with awareness.

In addition to that loss of interest in formerly enjoyable things and reduction in social interaction, self-care or grooming, AAMFT’s warning signs for suicide include:

  • Straying from medical regimes, such as no longer taking prescriptions
  • Expectation/experience of a significant personal loss such as the death of a spouse
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Making changes in wills, putting affairs in order or giving away possessions
  • Stockpiling meds or obtaining other lethal means
  • Lack of personal safety
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Expressions of suicidal intent.

In recent years, according to Medscape Medical News, clinicians have come across a growing number of elderly patients wanting to die by suicide while they are still mentally intact and relatively healthy.

In any case, mental health workers, physicians, family members and friends must be willing to talk, to seek information, and to seek healthy solutions together.

If someone exhibits the warning signs of suicide, do not leave the person alone. Remove any sharp objects, firearms, alcohol or drugs that might be used in an attempt, and seek professional help immediately.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-TALK (8255).

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