SUICIDE AND THE ELDERLY – A "MATURE MATTERS" ESSAY

Our “mature matters” group of the boomers increasing into their late 60’s, 70’s, and onward into their 80’s and 90’s represent a new volume of potential depressed individuals and suicidal risk candidates.

It is fairly simple for depression in the elderly to go unrecognized or missed.  Many times the depressed mood is masked by drugs such as anti-parkinson meds, narcotics, pain relievers, and heart and blood pressure meds.  Many co-morbid conditions of parkinson’s, early dementia, diabetes, mini-strokes, heart disease, neurological disorders can also mask symptoms of elderly depression and potential suicidal risk.  Depression in the elderly can suddenly change, manifesting itself as agitation, confusion, new dreams or hallucinations, but even can be a change toward new apathy or diminished or unusual caring.  Certainly, with any of these, the constant is a change from the baseline of the elderly person. 

Males suicides rates are alarming.  Rates continue to rise as men age, with a peak in the mid-80’s of age.  Meanwhile, females suicide rates peak in middle age, then decrease again in older years.

Elderly men in their 80’s have greater success in suicide attempts when compared to their younger male counterparts.  Younger men generally have more attempts, but generally are less apt to completion.  Many times planning specifics are detailed and even some have been to their doctor recently.

Elderly men typically will have a diagnosis of depression, while younger individuals will have a history of affective disorders (mood) or substance abuse disorders.  Additional risk to the elderly potential suicide victim is a group of problems including loss of spouse, loss of home, previous suicidal discussion, alcoholism, or new diagnosis of a chronic condition. 

 

Families and caregivers must be alert for any change in attitude, mood, eating habits, sleeping habits, or conversation or discussions of suicide – or discussion of would be better, less burdensome to their family, or hopelessness.

 

Elderly patients need a close eye and open ear to their concerns, wishes, demands, and needs.  A hopeful and loving family with caring friends, with professional consultation, can be literally elderly life saving…and that shows that “Mature Matters.”

One Response to “SUICIDE AND THE ELDERLY – A "MATURE MATTERS" ESSAY”

  1. Kim Rand says:

    Dr W.

    I just want to let you know that I find your website very informative. One article in particular is the “Suicide and the Elderly”. Just over 1 week ago, my uncle (in his late 70s) committed suicide. My Dad is having a hard time with why his brother would do this as they were raised in a Lutheran (his father was a minister) family and they were brought up with the belief that suicide was a great sin. My uncle had recently been affected with his wife collapsing and having a brain bleed which required emergency surgery. Her post-op has been very difficult and she is in a group home. My uncle became very depressed over the ‘loss” of his wife. My cousin had him seen by a physican and it was found that my uncle needed bypass surgery. His depression continued and he was put into a private home to be cared for. One a day last week, he found out that his son-in-law died ( due to liver failure). He was on a liver transplant list and prior to going to surgery, a heart problem was found and he was immediately taken off the list. He died a day later. Upon hearing this news, my uncle jumped out of a 2 story home where he was staying and broke his neck.

    I printed this article for my parents to read and hopefully they will understand what my uncle was going thru with the devastating events in his live that last few months.

    Kim

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