How Common is Elderly Suicide?

Cynde Gregory

Elderly suicide is becoming increasingly common worldwide. According to the National Institutes of Health, those at greatest risk, it seems, are non-Hispanic Caucasians, with a suicide rate of nearly 16 per 100,000. Those with the lowest suicide rates among the elderly are non-Hispanic Blacks, at 5 per 100,000. In the United States alone, 18% of all suicides are committed by people who are 65 years or older, although the elderly make up only 13% of the population. Worldwide, approximately 34% of the elderly population suffer from depression, and depression is the leading cause of suicide.

Elderly suicide may be prevented by counseling.
Elderly suicide may be prevented by counseling.

Geriatric suicide that results from depression is most commonly caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals, which is extremely widespread among senior citizens. In most cases, this imbalance can be corrected with medication. Many other causes of depression leading to elderly suicide can be traced to different medical conditions, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart attack, or an over- or underactive thyroid. Parkinson’s disease, tumors, and strokes are also common triggers. In rare cases, a viral infection can lead to undiagnosed depression.

An elderly person with serious health issues may decide that suicide is the only option to escape the pain.
An elderly person with serious health issues may decide that suicide is the only option to escape the pain.

Another cause of elderly suicide is certain medications. These medicines are commonly prescribed to seniors who are suffering from arthritis or high blood pressure. Hormones and steroids can also result in elderly depression. Geriatric depression that leads to suicide can also be caused by lifestyle changes. Loss of mobility, feeling overly dependent upon others, and being unable to perform tasks that once were simple can lead to feelings of inadequacy, depression, and the desire to die. Seniors suffering from depression caused by changes in lifestyle can be helped by medication coupled with therapy.

Elderly depression is frequently undiagnosed, and could lead to suicide.
Elderly depression is frequently undiagnosed, and could lead to suicide.

Elderly depression is frequently undiagnosed, possibly because many people wrongly believe it is simply part of the aging process. This is not the case. People who have elderly parents or friends, as well as those who work with senior citizens in assisted-living facilities or senior centers, should be aware of the signs of potential depression and suicide. Individuals showing symptoms should be seen by medical professionals as soon as possible.

Volunteering to spend time with seniors can help prevent elderly suicide.
Volunteering to spend time with seniors can help prevent elderly suicide.

Elderly suicide warning signs include sudden impulsive behavior, withdrawing from loved ones, and extreme mood changes. A loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed, sudden rages, sleeping little or all the time, and loss of appetite could also be pointing to depression. Roughly three-quarters of all geriatric suicides demonstrated one or more of the warning signs. It is not always possible to identify a potential suicide risk; family members of an elderly suicide victim should not blame themselves.

Like people of any age, it's important that older adults help ward off depression through mental and physical exercise.
Like people of any age, it's important that older adults help ward off depression through mental and physical exercise.
Playing with children may help lift the spirits of an elderly person suffering from depression.
Playing with children may help lift the spirits of an elderly person suffering from depression.
Some medications may cause elderly suicide.
Some medications may cause elderly suicide.
Elderly people with depression who live alone may never be properly diagnosed.
Elderly people with depression who live alone may never be properly diagnosed.

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