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07 Apr 2014

Reducing the Risk of Suicide in the Elderly

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics highlight the importance of prevention of suicide in the elderly. According to the findings, elderly men are three times more likely to die by suicide than any other age group. The suicide rate for men aged 85 and older was 37.6 per 100,000 in 2012, more than triple the national rate.

There’s a number of factors that lead to depression in old age. The biggest one is associated with bereavement. Older people face many loses in their late life which include spouse, friends, independence, change in living environment and loss of good health. With people retiring, some do not find a new level of functioning in the community or are unable to identify meaningful activities to keep them occupied. Many report feeling isolated, helpless, hopeless and worthless. Isolation is a big problem in Australia and overcoming it will require a collaborative approach from health service providers, families, relatives, friends and the community.

A significant number of older people become depressed, particularly those with poor health and living in residential care. Older people are the least likely group to access mental health services and report aversion to medication. Older people present with depression differently to younger people. Older persons are more likely to report on physical symptoms of depression, such as changes in sleeping patterns, appetite or increased pain, rather than on their thinking styles and emotions. This can make detecting depression particularly difficult.

It is important to understand and recognise early signs of depression in older people, as they can assist to reduce the risk of suicide.

According to beyondblue resource these include:

Behaviour

  • not going out anymore
  • not getting things done
  • withdrawing from close family and friends
  • relying on alcohol and sedatives
  • not doing usual enjoyable activities
  • unable to concentrate

Feelings

  • overwhelmed
  • guilty
  • irritable
  • frustrated
  • lacking in confidence
  • unhappy
  • indecisive
  • disappointed
  • miserable
  • sad

Thoughts

  • ‘I’m a failure.’
  • ‘It’s my fault.’
  • ‘Nothing good ever happens to me.’
  • ‘I’m worthless.’
  • ‘Life’s not worth living.’
  • ‘People would be better off without me.’

Physical

  • tired all the time
  • sick and run down
  • headaches and muscle pains
  • churning gut
  • sleep problems
  • loss or change of appetite
  • significant weight loss or gain
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