Senior citizens are the fastest-growing age group in the U.S., and they’re also the most likely to commit suicide. As the baby boomers continue to retire, the healthcare industry is turning its attention to long-term, at-home, and end-of-life care. However, senior care programs need to focus on mental health as well as physical health. Older adults make up 12% of the general population and 18% of all suicides in the U.S.
Find out how you can help curb suicide among the elderly.
Why Are More Seniors Turning to Suicide?
We tend to develop a range of health concerns and conditions as we age, including chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes, and liver and heart disease. Seniors are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions when compared to the general population. Approximately 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77% have at least two.
Living with a chronic condition or multiple conditions can take a toll on an individual’s mental health, which can lead to increased depression and anxiety. An estimated one-third of individuals with a chronic illness or condition experience symptoms of depression.
The risk of suicide also increases as we age. The suicide rate for those over the age of 65 is around 15 per 100,000 individuals. As for those ages 75 to 84, the number of suicides is around 17 per 10,000 individuals. The number of suicides increases for those over the age of 85.
Seniors also tend to spend a lot of time alone, especially if they no longer have a partner. Around 33% of seniors report feeling lonely, which can affect their physical and mental health, further increasing the risk of suicide.
Seniors have also been filing for bankruptcy at higher rates than in years passed. Senior citizens now account for 12% of all bankruptcy relief claims in the U.S. Back in 1991, seniors made up just 2% of all relief claims.
Often seen as a generational issue, seniors are also less likely to seek mental health treatment than previous generations. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and PTSD may go untreated or unreported in older individuals.
Some believe the suicide rate among seniors could be much higher than the numbers listed above. Seniors tend to suffer from what are known as “silent suicides,” including unreported incidents, medical errors, dehydration, starvation, and medication noncompliance.
Warning Signs for At-Risk Seniors
Older individuals may consider suicide for any number of reasons. They may be suffering from a physical or mental illness, feel isolated from friends and family, or lack financial stability. Regardless of the reason, those considering suicide usually exhibit warning signs before taking their own life.
As a care provider, it’s important to be on the lookout for these warning signs as you care for your elderly patients. They include:
- Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Neglecting their personal appearance or personal relationships
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Refusing to take their medication
- Recovering from the loss of a loved one or partner
- Feelings of hopelessness or depression
- Finalizing or making sudden changes to their will
- Collecting or buying firearms or large doses of medication for lethal purposes
Men tend to be more at risk of suicide than women. Seniors are also more likely to complete suicide than younger individuals from use of firearms, hanging, or drowning.
Treatment and Prevention
Talk to your team about the warning signs for seniors at risk of suicide. If you notice these warning signs in some of your patients, ask them how they’re feeling and try to get them to open up through conversation. Mention topics related to the future, such as, “When is your family coming to visit?” “Are you looking forward to the holidays?” or “Do you have any special plans coming up?” You can also try talking to their friends and family members. Voice your concerns while offering a solution.
Consider having your patients evaluated by a mental health professional with experience in suicide prevention among the elderly. A mental health practitioner can help you and your team recognize these symptoms in older individuals and take action when necessary.
Depression tends to be common among older individuals, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook these crucial warning signs. Talk to your patients and consult with a mental health professional when necessary. Together, we can all do our part to reduce the risk of suicide among seniors.