Suicide among the Elderly in Long-Term Care Facilities

Suicide among the Elderly in Long-Term Care Facilities

Suicide among the Elderly in Long-Term Care Facilities

Suicide among the Elderly in Long-Term Care Facilities

Synopsis

This is the first large-scale study of suicide in a population of institutionalized older adults. From their findings, the authors identify the most "at risk" groups and highlight the major factors contributing to suicide in older adults in institutions. Results of the survey of over 1,000 administrators of long-term care facilities confirmed that suicidal behavior occurred in approximately 20 percent of the facilities that responded, and that high-risk groups include white males and patients of 75 years old and older. Certain enviornmental factors are also related to the occurrence and outcome of suicidal behavior. The authors use their survey results to provide suggestions for suicide prevention.

Excerpt

A major misconception in our society is that suicide is primarily a phenomenon of adolescence. Until recently, most research and media attention in the United States has focused on the problem of suicide among teens. However, the reality is that suicide is primarily a problem of late life, and the elderly are the most "at risk." In fact, the suicide rate for the elderly is 50 percent higher than that of the young or the nation as a whole. One elderly American takes his or her life every ninety-six minutes (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1986).

The highest rates of suicide for those living in the community are found not among the young, but among those individuals 65 years and older. From 1940 to 1980, the suicide rate for the older population in this country declined markedly due to improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of depression, the increase in numbers of females in the older population, improved economic conditions, and the provision of special services for the elderly. However, from 1980 to 1986, the rates for elderly suicide climbed progressively from 17.1 (per 100,000) to 21.5 (per 100,000) in the population, respectively. In comparison, the rate for the U.S. population was 12.1 (per 100,000), and the rate for 15 to 24 year olds was 13.1 (per 100,000) in 1986 (NCHS, 1988). Not only do older persons kill themselves at a greater rate than their numbers in the population, but they do it with "determination and single-mindedness of purpose" not encountered among younger age groups (Seiden, 1981, p. 265).

The suicide rates recorded and reported for the elderly represent a drastic under-reporting of the problem. Many older adults fail to take life-sustaining medications or follow specified medical regimens; overdose on prescription and over-the-counter medications; mix alcohol and drugs; stop eating or . . .

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