Suicide and The Elderly

When you consider those whom commit suicide, do you consider those in their 70’s or 80’s?  I don’t.  When I pause to consider this topic, I think of teenagers who don’t feel accepted by their peers and middle-aged men who are in a mid-life crisis or who have had a radical change in their finances.

Wanting to learn more about this issue, I read an article from USA Today (2007) regarding suicide in older adults.  The article gave a few real-life stories of suicide in the elderly and I was surprised how often this occurs.  Certainly, there are people from every age group (starting with young children) who commit suicide; but for some reason, suicide among the elderly rarely crosses my mind.

I only know one family who has been affected by suicide.  In this situation, the father (middle aged) committed suicide, leaving his wife to care for their three daughters (the youngest, only a few weeks old).

According to the USA Today article,

  • The “elderly are the highest risk population in the country for suicide”
  • Older adults are “less likely to seek help and are more lethal in their suicide attempts”
  • The rate of suicide among the elderly is expected to rise as Baby Boomers age.

So what is being done to prevent suicide among the elderly?  There are many suicide-prevention programs across the country… for the young.  Federal funds have traditionally funded these.  There are many fewer programs targeted at detecting and treating depression; on of the leading causes of suicide in the elderly.  Perhaps one of the greatest reasons for a lack of suicide prevention programs for the elderly (advocates believe), is a “lack of concern for older Americans”.

(In my thoughts) I hear an argument between two groups fighting for federal funds earmarked for suicide prevention programs….  One group shouts out louder than the other…. Try to save the life of the young!  They’ll be here longer! (This is not my personal opinion by the way….)  But, it is easy to understand how our society can write off older adults in this particular area; as Americans (in general) place high value on the young.

Wanting to learn more about recent statistics for suicide among the elderly, I went to the CDC (Center for Disease Control).  There is a multitude of information on this topic from the years 2005-2009, including differences in race/ethnicity, sex and even the “mechanism” used in suicide. During 2005–2009, the “highest suicide rates for males ages 65 and older were among the Non-Hispanic Whites with 32.37 suicides per 100,000 and the highest rates for females ages 65 and older were among the Asian/Pacific Islanders with 6.01 suicides per 100,000”.  The primary mechanism for suicide among all individuals aged 65 and older, was firearms.  The only exception, were Asian Americans, who most often chose suffocation.

I remember a case of attempted suicide when I worked in long-term care.  An elderly man had a plastic trash bag completely over his head.   I don’t recall the exact details of the situation, but I am sure he probably received counseling and a visit from the psychiatrist.  Perhaps he even made a visit to the psychiatric hospital.  He was probably depressed and very lonely.

This is obviously a very complicated issue.  Visit the CDC website for more information on depression, suicide rates among those 65 and over, and suicide prevention strategies.  If you have an older adult in your life that you are close to, encourage him or her to share thoughts and feelings.  Other people will often share feelings about their life when you are willing to do the same!  Remain vigilant about the signs of depression and seek *professional help if needed.

*The older adult’s MD or in a life-threatening situation, the Emergency Room.


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  1. #1 by Lynne Ayers on July 30, 2012 - 7:12 pm

    I haven’t thought about this in depth, but I have thought about it. I am a senior now, a young senior 🙂 but as I age I do wonder what my later, last years will be like – how capable I will be, how mobile, how finanacially stable. My mother, still grieving her way through her first year of widowhood, found herself in the hospital and confided to me that she wished the nurses could just leave some extra pills by the bed. This didn’t shock me, I don’t recall being afraid. It just was. Within the month she had passed of natural causes, the foremost of which I think was loss of will and desire to keep going. I see contemporaries struggling with aging parents who, despite not wanting to be a burden, have become so. This is not to say that their children are not contining to physically and emotionally care for them but it is to say that this need has substantial impact on their own early years as seniors themselves. None of us wants to be a burden, and if we have lived our lives and see only decline ahead it must crop up as an option. I have said to my daughters that it hurts me so to know that the last thing I do, that is, die naturally, will cause them so much hurt and pain. I think now, when the time comes, they will remember that, and will smile. I hope so.

    • #2 by allagingblog on July 30, 2012 - 8:19 pm

      Thanks for your comment. Because I’m not a senior (and have never considered suicide) it is a little difficult for me to relate to these older adults. If I consider some circumstances (ie, your spouse is deceased and you have no children, you have been given a diagnosis of a serious illness that is debilitating and may last for years, or you don’t believe in God or life after this one)…. I can begin to imagine the great sadness some seniors may experience. When comparing suicide to natural death…. I guess you could say that a natural death is a gift to your loved ones. At least family members aren’t left with the “why” question that they will surely ponder for years.

      • #3 by Lynne Ayers on July 30, 2012 - 8:55 pm

        The huge ‘why’ question, the huge sense of failing another person. We have it within our family and, yes, it never gets answered. If my mother had ended her own life I know I would have felt anger with the loss, but I also believe I would have understood and not denounced her for it – in some measure even admired her though that may seem outrageous. Is losing the will so much different? In the elderly I don’t think suicide necessarily comes from sadness or depression or futility. I have been aware that my feelings around the whole issue change as I age …

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