Are the Elderly at Risk for Suicide?

Reviewed May 27, 2017

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Summary

If an elderly person is depressed:

  • Make sure he gets treatment for depression.
  • Keep her involved in life.
  • Get him in a safe place.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, most suicides occurred among adults aged 45-64 at a rate of 19.6 per 100,000 people in 2015. However, much older people take their own lives, too. The second highest suicide rate is among those 85 and older, at a rate of 19.4.

Why is this the case, when the mental health conditions causing 90 percent of suicides (with depression as the highest risk factor) are diagnosable and treatable? Why, when elderly people have weathered so many of life’s storms and for so long?

The answer may lie in the fact that many elderly people have untreated depression. Some people assume depression is just part of the aging process, and there is nothing to be done about it. However, that could not be farther from the truth. Elderly people with depression may have a common but treatable chemical imbalance, and there is no reason why they should feel low.

Sometimes depression is caused by a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, a stroke, tumor, or some viral infections.

Common medications can also lead to symptoms of depression, including drugs for blood pressure and arthritis, hormones, and steroids. The more meds a person takes, the more the chance for developing symptoms of depression. Consequently, it’s important for a primary care doctor to know all of the meds a person is taking. Alcohol and the use of painkillers can accelerate depression as well.

By the time a person reaches the 70s, he has undoubtedly lost friends and loved ones. Children and grandchildren might live far away, or are too busy to visit or call. Widows and widowers often find themselves isolated from the families. By choice or by chance, they might spend most of their time alone, even on holidays.

Any sudden event, such as the onset of illness or the loss of a loved one, can upset the balance of an elderly person’s life. The person may start drinking, or drink more often. Or, that person might stay away from social contacts because he is embarrassed about his situation or does not want to be reminded of what life once was. She may love to relive the past; but her friend may want to forget. 

If I think my elderly loved one is at risk, what can I do to help?

  1. Alert a doctor, social worker, or family member to the problem. It is possible that a change in medication or environment may be all that is needed to turn the person around. 
  2. Help your loved one maintain continuity and predictability in life. Make sure he is eating regularly. If she lives alone, see that she spends time with other people, at least several times a week. Help build a routine for your loved one that includes a social life, some exercise, and plans for the future. 
  3. Express your concern. Tell her your relationship means a lot to you. Let him know you are not the only person who loves him. He is important in the lives of many others. You want to help him believe he is wanted and still useful in the lives of others. 
  4. Get him in a safe place. Make sure there are no firearms or lethal drugs available in his environment. If your loved one is taking sedative medications, make sure that it is still safe for him to do so. Don’t leave her alone. Keep a close watch on her moods and listen to what she says. Listen to your feelings: If you are alarmed, get help immediately.

Resources

If you or your loved one are in a crisis and need help immediately, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or go to www.suicide.org online. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

Kristin Brooks Hope Center
Links callers to a certified crisis center near the caller's location. Certified by American Association of Suicidology, ensuring compliance with national standards and quality of services.
(800) SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
www.hopeline.com/

Families for Depression Awareness
Helps families recognize and cope with depressive disorders to ease pain and prevent suicides.
www.familyaware.org

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Kevin Caruso, Founder, Executive Director, and Editor-in-Chief of the suicide prevention website, Suicide.org; Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, psychiatrist, author, wellness coach, Miami, FL; LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, MSS, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, and Co-director of The Counseling Network of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Sarasota, FL, which offers free counseling for grief, post-traumatic stress, and family and children needs for military families and veterans; Synopsis of Psychiatry by Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock and Pedro Ruiz, MD LWW, 11th edition; 2014.
Reviewed by Jenni Myers, Director, Corporate Strategy, Strategy and Development, and Dale Seamans, Executive Editor, Medical, Beacon Health Options

Summary

If an elderly person is depressed:

  • Make sure he gets treatment for depression.
  • Keep her involved in life.
  • Get him in a safe place.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, most suicides occurred among adults aged 45-64 at a rate of 19.6 per 100,000 people in 2015. However, much older people take their own lives, too. The second highest suicide rate is among those 85 and older, at a rate of 19.4.

Why is this the case, when the mental health conditions causing 90 percent of suicides (with depression as the highest risk factor) are diagnosable and treatable? Why, when elderly people have weathered so many of life’s storms and for so long?

The answer may lie in the fact that many elderly people have untreated depression. Some people assume depression is just part of the aging process, and there is nothing to be done about it. However, that could not be farther from the truth. Elderly people with depression may have a common but treatable chemical imbalance, and there is no reason why they should feel low.

Sometimes depression is caused by a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, a stroke, tumor, or some viral infections.

Common medications can also lead to symptoms of depression, including drugs for blood pressure and arthritis, hormones, and steroids. The more meds a person takes, the more the chance for developing symptoms of depression. Consequently, it’s important for a primary care doctor to know all of the meds a person is taking. Alcohol and the use of painkillers can accelerate depression as well.

By the time a person reaches the 70s, he has undoubtedly lost friends and loved ones. Children and grandchildren might live far away, or are too busy to visit or call. Widows and widowers often find themselves isolated from the families. By choice or by chance, they might spend most of their time alone, even on holidays.

Any sudden event, such as the onset of illness or the loss of a loved one, can upset the balance of an elderly person’s life. The person may start drinking, or drink more often. Or, that person might stay away from social contacts because he is embarrassed about his situation or does not want to be reminded of what life once was. She may love to relive the past; but her friend may want to forget. 

If I think my elderly loved one is at risk, what can I do to help?

  1. Alert a doctor, social worker, or family member to the problem. It is possible that a change in medication or environment may be all that is needed to turn the person around. 
  2. Help your loved one maintain continuity and predictability in life. Make sure he is eating regularly. If she lives alone, see that she spends time with other people, at least several times a week. Help build a routine for your loved one that includes a social life, some exercise, and plans for the future. 
  3. Express your concern. Tell her your relationship means a lot to you. Let him know you are not the only person who loves him. He is important in the lives of many others. You want to help him believe he is wanted and still useful in the lives of others. 
  4. Get him in a safe place. Make sure there are no firearms or lethal drugs available in his environment. If your loved one is taking sedative medications, make sure that it is still safe for him to do so. Don’t leave her alone. Keep a close watch on her moods and listen to what she says. Listen to your feelings: If you are alarmed, get help immediately.

Resources

If you or your loved one are in a crisis and need help immediately, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or go to www.suicide.org online. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

Kristin Brooks Hope Center
Links callers to a certified crisis center near the caller's location. Certified by American Association of Suicidology, ensuring compliance with national standards and quality of services.
(800) SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
www.hopeline.com/

Families for Depression Awareness
Helps families recognize and cope with depressive disorders to ease pain and prevent suicides.
www.familyaware.org

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Kevin Caruso, Founder, Executive Director, and Editor-in-Chief of the suicide prevention website, Suicide.org; Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, psychiatrist, author, wellness coach, Miami, FL; LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, MSS, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, and Co-director of The Counseling Network of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Sarasota, FL, which offers free counseling for grief, post-traumatic stress, and family and children needs for military families and veterans; Synopsis of Psychiatry by Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock and Pedro Ruiz, MD LWW, 11th edition; 2014.
Reviewed by Jenni Myers, Director, Corporate Strategy, Strategy and Development, and Dale Seamans, Executive Editor, Medical, Beacon Health Options

Summary

If an elderly person is depressed:

  • Make sure he gets treatment for depression.
  • Keep her involved in life.
  • Get him in a safe place.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, most suicides occurred among adults aged 45-64 at a rate of 19.6 per 100,000 people in 2015. However, much older people take their own lives, too. The second highest suicide rate is among those 85 and older, at a rate of 19.4.

Why is this the case, when the mental health conditions causing 90 percent of suicides (with depression as the highest risk factor) are diagnosable and treatable? Why, when elderly people have weathered so many of life’s storms and for so long?

The answer may lie in the fact that many elderly people have untreated depression. Some people assume depression is just part of the aging process, and there is nothing to be done about it. However, that could not be farther from the truth. Elderly people with depression may have a common but treatable chemical imbalance, and there is no reason why they should feel low.

Sometimes depression is caused by a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, a stroke, tumor, or some viral infections.

Common medications can also lead to symptoms of depression, including drugs for blood pressure and arthritis, hormones, and steroids. The more meds a person takes, the more the chance for developing symptoms of depression. Consequently, it’s important for a primary care doctor to know all of the meds a person is taking. Alcohol and the use of painkillers can accelerate depression as well.

By the time a person reaches the 70s, he has undoubtedly lost friends and loved ones. Children and grandchildren might live far away, or are too busy to visit or call. Widows and widowers often find themselves isolated from the families. By choice or by chance, they might spend most of their time alone, even on holidays.

Any sudden event, such as the onset of illness or the loss of a loved one, can upset the balance of an elderly person’s life. The person may start drinking, or drink more often. Or, that person might stay away from social contacts because he is embarrassed about his situation or does not want to be reminded of what life once was. She may love to relive the past; but her friend may want to forget. 

If I think my elderly loved one is at risk, what can I do to help?

  1. Alert a doctor, social worker, or family member to the problem. It is possible that a change in medication or environment may be all that is needed to turn the person around. 
  2. Help your loved one maintain continuity and predictability in life. Make sure he is eating regularly. If she lives alone, see that she spends time with other people, at least several times a week. Help build a routine for your loved one that includes a social life, some exercise, and plans for the future. 
  3. Express your concern. Tell her your relationship means a lot to you. Let him know you are not the only person who loves him. He is important in the lives of many others. You want to help him believe he is wanted and still useful in the lives of others. 
  4. Get him in a safe place. Make sure there are no firearms or lethal drugs available in his environment. If your loved one is taking sedative medications, make sure that it is still safe for him to do so. Don’t leave her alone. Keep a close watch on her moods and listen to what she says. Listen to your feelings: If you are alarmed, get help immediately.

Resources

If you or your loved one are in a crisis and need help immediately, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or go to www.suicide.org online. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

Kristin Brooks Hope Center
Links callers to a certified crisis center near the caller's location. Certified by American Association of Suicidology, ensuring compliance with national standards and quality of services.
(800) SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
www.hopeline.com/

Families for Depression Awareness
Helps families recognize and cope with depressive disorders to ease pain and prevent suicides.
www.familyaware.org

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Kevin Caruso, Founder, Executive Director, and Editor-in-Chief of the suicide prevention website, Suicide.org; Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, psychiatrist, author, wellness coach, Miami, FL; LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, MSS, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, and Co-director of The Counseling Network of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Sarasota, FL, which offers free counseling for grief, post-traumatic stress, and family and children needs for military families and veterans; Synopsis of Psychiatry by Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock and Pedro Ruiz, MD LWW, 11th edition; 2014.
Reviewed by Jenni Myers, Director, Corporate Strategy, Strategy and Development, and Dale Seamans, Executive Editor, Medical, Beacon Health Options

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