Suicide in the elderly: characteristics and warning signs

According to sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 800,000 suicides every year in the world. In Spain, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), suicide is the main cause of unnatural deaths in Spain, even in front of road accidents.

Therefore, it is necessary to establish a prevention plan to help those who need it, in particular the young (between 14 and 30 years old) and the vulnerable elderly, the latter being a very vulnerable group and in which they have significantly increased the number of suicide cases.

that’s why below we will talk about suicide in the elderly, explaining the risk factors and some prevention instructions.

    Characteristics of suicide in the elderly

    Suicide has always been a subject of little interest, becoming a taboo subject in society, although it is today the main cause of unnatural death, overcome traffic accidents.

    There are discouraging data linked to suicide in the elderly, such as the following:

    • The number of suicides among the elderly has increased in recent years.
    • Among the suicides in Spain, a high percentage involved people over the age of 60.
    • In cases of suicide in the elderly, the diagnosis of major depressive disorder was high.
    • 15% of grandparents with depression end up killing themselves.

    The most characteristic factors of suicide in the elderly are listed below:

    • They try less to self-harm than other young people.
    • When they intend to kill themselves, they use more deadly methods than young people.
    • They tend to think carefully and premeditate before committing suicide.
    • They tend to send fewer warning signs than other young people.
    • They can opt for “passive” suicide, failing to take care of themselves (they allow themselves to die slowly).

      Main risk factors for suicide in the elderly

      We will explain below risk factors suicides in the elderly, that is to say the phenomena likely to be associated with this behavior but which do not necessarily have to lead or be the main cause.

      1. Medical factors

      Included between medical factors (organic alterations in the functioning of the body) Closely associated with a risk of suicide in the elderly are:

      • Disabling, painful, chronic or terminal illnesses.
      • High frequency of hospitalizations or having to be operated frequently for health reasons.
      • Suffer from diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, any type of dementia, arteriosclerosis, etc.

      2. Psychological factors

      Psychological factors play a very important role in the field of suicide in the elderly, as well as in the rest of the population, highlighting the following psychological images:

      • Suffering from any type of depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.
      • Abuse of alcohol and / or any type of drug.
      • Suffering from some form of chronic sleep disorder.
      • Suffering from paranoid delusional psychosis, with increased distrust and agitation.
      • Suffering from psychological confusion.
      • Suffering from a personality disorder which seriously affects your daily life.
      • Feeling useless and / or alone, without having tasks that make you feel useful.
      • Inactivity and / or boredom.
      • Lack of projects and goals in his life.
      • Having the desire to die because you think life is no longer worth it.
      • Not having satisfying social relationships can increase your feelings of loneliness.

      There are many studies that have documented that depression is strongly associated with suicide, being the main risk factor and most common cause among suicides of all ages.

      In the case of older people, it is more difficult to diagnose depression than in younger people, which usually occurs in older people as atypical depression, so fewer cases of depression have been detected than in those with in many case, it is not properly treated and this increases the risk of suicide.

      To detect a case of depression in the elderly, being an atypical form of depression, you need to pay attention to aspects different from those of the younger ones, such as apathy or lack of motivation to do things that you liked to do before, complaints of feeling alone and hopeless, complaints more somatic or feeling more pain than usual, there may be less direct verbalization of the feeling of vital sadness, so it is more appropriate to detect depression indirectly through this series of complaints.

        3. Family factors

        Family factors are very important especially at these ages when the degree of rest dependence increases, they are therefore also risk factors for suicide in the elderly, and the following points should be emphasized:

        • Loss of loved ones, especially if it is a child.

        • Continuous change of place of residence, when your children take turns looking after him and he has to move.
        • Admission to a nursing home, especially when you do not feel well treated.
        • Suffering from a traumatic event related to a loved one (for example, an accident of a loved one).
        • Stay widowed.
        • When the children and grandchildren won’t visit him.
        • Spend most of your time alone.
        • Suffering from abuse from a family member or caregiver.

        4. Social, environmental and economic factors

        Socio-environmental and economic factors as well they are very relevant to a person’s quality of life, they can therefore also be risk factors for suicide in the elderly, highlighting the following:

        • Being in a bad financial situation so you cannot cover basic expenses.
        • Having a poor quality of life, not running out of basic products.
        • Not having decent accommodation or even sleeping on the streets or in hostels.
        • Not having enough autonomy to perform a number of basic tasks.
        • Feeling that he has lost his dignity by being unable to perform the tasks he previously did.

        Hidden suicide among the elderly

        Hidden suicide is a form of suicide in which it is difficult to distinguish whether the person died as a result of an accident or if it was in fact a suicide.

        Many cases of hidden suicide have been detected in the elderly, and the following forms are the most common of these ways of committing suicide.

        1. Domestic accidents

        There are many cases of death due to a domestic accident that could have been caused intentionally by the elderly person, so it is a secret and forensic suicide, not having enough evidence to prove the cause. . , could declare a domestic accident as the cause of death.

        2. Drug overdose

        As with home accidents, when a drug overdose occurs it is also very difficult to know if it was the result of a distraction or if it was done intentionally in order to produce what is possible, let’s call it a secret suicide.

        On the other hand, the opposite could happen, and it is that the older person intentionally does not take the medications they need and neglects in many respects, so that it can gradually deteriorate your health, causing you to die prematurely if you maintain a healthy lifestyle and take the medicine as directed by your doctor.

        3. Drowning

        There are studies carried out on various cases of drowning in several countries where it stands out a large number of cases of suicide in disguise by drowning among elderly people in Japan, also detecting cases in other countries

        In all of the above cases, it is very difficult to show whether the death of the elderly person was caused by hidden suicide or, on the other hand, the cause of death was a stroke which caused an accident, therefore in many cases Hidden suicide has been reported as the cause of accidental death, while there have also been cases of accidental death that have been reported as suicide.

          Suicide prevention in the elderly

          It is important detect a number of aspects and behaviors to prevent suicide in the elderly, highlighting the following:

          • Suicide risk assessment by the doctor or psychologist.
          • Look for symptoms or behaviors that lead to suspicion of depression.
          • Control and treat as much as possible any painful, chronic or disabling disease.
          • Make sure the older person sees a mental health specialist if necessary.
          • Make sure the older person is taking all of their medications correctly.
          • Make sure the elder does not abuse alcohol or drugs.
          • Make sure the old man maintains a healthy lifestyle.
          • Make sure the old man has regular doctor’s visits and doesn’t skip any medical appointments.
          • Ensure that the elderly person is not isolated, by being able to participate in day centers for the elderly.
          • Make sure the old man stays active and does things he enjoys.
          • Make sure the senior has an active social life.
          • Having family care for the elderly and spending time with them is a preventive factor.

          Traffic signs

          We need to be alert to these warning signs which may act as risk factors for suicide in the elderly:

          • He verbally expresses that he no longer wants to live.
          • It is often found with nervousness, apathy or demotivation.
          • He verbally complains that he is no longer worth anything.
          • He is more tired than usual.
          • He is more irritable or restless than usual.
          • He no longer enjoys doing the activities he used to enjoy.
          • He verbally complains that no one wants him.
          • At least more or less than usual
          • He often complains of stomach aches, headaches or chronic pain.
          • He has frequent requests to go to the doctor and cannot be in pain.
          • He cries very often, sometimes even for no apparent reason.
          • This causes self-harm.
          • Sudden changes in your mood.

          It is important to take all of these signs seriously and pay attention to them and even seek professional help.. You just need to be more discriminating in helping others.

          It’s also important that these people don’t spend a lot of time alone and make sure they know we are for what they need. Also, you have to be careful when berating him for something he has done wrong, trying not to raise your voice. We need to help older people who feel worthy of themselves.

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