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Identification of Suicidal Ideation and Prevention of Suicidal Behaviour in the Elderly

Abstract

In almost all industrialised countries, men aged 75 years and older have the highest suicide rate among all age groups. Although in younger age groups suicide attempts are often impulsive and communicative acts, suicide attempts in older people (defined as aged 65 years and older) are often long planned and involve high-lethality methods. These characteristics, in addition to the fact that elderly are more fragile and frequently live alone, more often lead to fatal outcome.

In later life, in both sexes, the most common diagnosis in those who attempt or complete suicide is major depression. In contrast to other age groups, comorbidity with substance abuse and personality disorders is less frequent. Physical illness plays an important role in the suicidal behaviour of the elderly: most frequently, depression and illness co-occur; less often, the physical illness or the treating medications are causally related to the depressive symptoms. However, only 2 to 4% of terminally ill elderly commit suicide. In addition to physical illness, complicated or traumatic grief, anxiety, unremitting hopelessness after recovery from a depressive episode and history of previous suicide attempts are risk factors for suicide attempts and completed suicide. During a depressive episode, elderly patients with suicidal ideation have higher levels of anxiety and, during treatment, anxiety decreases the probability of remission and recovery. As well as overt suicide attempts, indirect self-destructive behaviours, which often lead to premature death, are common, especially in residents of nursing homes, where more immediate means to commit suicide are restricted.

Although we do not have randomised trials of treatment, studies suggest that antidepressant treatment may decrease suicide risk. Prevention and treatment trials are underway to detect the effectiveness of improved treatment of depression by primary care physicians as a means of reducing the prevalence of depressive symptoms, hopelessness and suicidal ideation.

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Acknowledgements

Supported in part by NIMH funded grants MH52247, MH59381 (PROSPECT), MH5219, MH4279, MH43832, MH37869 and MH01613. The authors have no conflict of interest directly relevant to the contents of this manuscript.

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Szanto, K., Gildengers, A., Mulsant, B.H. et al. Identification of Suicidal Ideation and Prevention of Suicidal Behaviour in the Elderly. Drugs Aging 19, 11–24 (2002). https://doi.org/10.2165/00002512-200219010-00002

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Keywords

  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Suicide Attempt
  • Suicidal Behaviour
  • Suicide Rate
  • Suicide Risk