Recognizing Suicide Risk in Older Adults

World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10, an opportunity to highlight the ways in which older adults are at risk for self-harm.  Suicide is a more common problem among older adults than you might realize. Figures recently released from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control show that the highest rate of suicides in America is among people age 45 to 64. Knowing this, how can we identify and provide the support to aging adults who may be at risk?

Suicide Risk Factors for Older Adults

First, we need to understand what motivates suicide among older adults. If family members, friends and care providers are more aware of the risk factors, they can more effectively intervene to save lives. The precursors of suicide tend to aggregate around one or more risk factors, including:

  • Physical pain or illness
  • Chronic health conditions
  • Depression or poor mental health
  • Substance abuse
  • Financial or legal Issues
  • Social dependency
  • Isolation
  • Family conflict
  • Relationship problems
  • Prior attempts at suicide

If a person is suffering from one or more of these conditions, they are more likely to consider ending their life. Older adults are more likely to die from a suicide attempt than people in other age groups. This is due to their overall frailty, as well as being socially isolated and less likely to be rescued. Older adults may have more access to lethal methods than others. Men are more likely to die from suicide than women.

Protecting Against Suicide Risk

If you are a caregiver for an aging parent, or a friend of an adult who is experiencing any of the above risk factors, you can help that person build up their strengths or “protective factors.” While some protective factors like resiliency are thought of as more innate, there are others that you can take action to address such as cultivating a sense of purpose, and connecting with others. Older adults who are engaged in social, educational, religious and volunteer activities may feel more connected to others and that their lives are more meaningful.

Depression is one of the most important issues to confront. If you see signs of depression in your loved one, seek the support of a qualified care professional to mitigate this risk factor. Other physical or mental health concerns such as chronic pain and anxiety should also be evaluated and treated.

It is a common misconception that talking to someone about their suicide risk may lead them to consider the idea. In fact, talking to someone you care about and asking them about their mood is one of the best things you can do to support someone. You may experience hesitation when encouraging an older adult to seek outside help. Try to be understanding and look for supportive resources and activities that are of interest to the individual. At Windward Life Care, our experienced team is here to assist you in finding these local resources to support your health and well-being. For more information about available services, call us today.