Suicide and the Elderly

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What is the problem?
Someone age 65 or over completes suicide every 90 minutes -- 16 deaths a day. Although elders only account for only 12% of the population, they also account for one fifth of all suicides. The suicide rate among elders is two to three times higher than in younger age groups. The elderly have a high suicide rate due to methods such as firearms, hanging and drowning. Also, double suicides occur most frequently among the aged. Suicide attempts among elderly have less chance of discovery due to greater social isolation and less chance of discovery survival due to greater physical frailty. What role does depression play?

Elder suicide is most widely associated with depression and things that cause depression. Depression remains underdiagnosed and undertreated in the elderly. Studies show that many older adults who die by suicide, up to 75%, visited a physician within a month before death. The risk of depression in the elderly tends to increase with other illnesses. Estimates of major depression in older people living in the community range from less than 1% to about 5%, but rises to 13.5 percent in elderly who require assistance. Some of the things that cause depression are chronic illness, physical impairment, unrelieved pain, financial stress, loss and grief and social isolation. Conwell (2001) reminds us that while these variables are significant, elder suicide has a complex etiology. "General understanding of suicide among older people is often oversimplified, ascribed to a single factor such as severe physical illness or depression. The reality is far more complex. There is no single cause for any suicide, and no two can be understood to result from exactly the same constellation of factors." Depression is also tied to low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which limits self-destructive behavior. Serotonin is a transmitter that decreases with aging. This makes it more the elderly more susceptible to committing harmful...
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