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Suicide Rate in the Elderly Community

There were over 22.2 suicides per 100,000 people in persons over 65 years of age in 1986.  This increase in the suicide rate from 1980 to 1986 among the elderly followed a 30 decline in the suicide rate in this category (2).  The most pronounced portion of this trend is among men over 70 years of age.  Suicide rates among the 15 to 19 year old age group more than doubled from 1950 to 1980 (1).  The recognition of this trend gave rise to funding for research and services in the area of adolescent suicide.  Another age group’s suicide rate is less commonly known but measures the highest rate is suicide among the elderly.   

The explanations offered to try and explain this high rate of suicide in the elderly are access to more lethal methods for committing suicide; living alone, which may delay discovery after the act; declining health, which tends towards chronic medical problems; mental dysfunction, which affects judgment and impairs ability to generate alternative options; and greater premeditation about the action (3-5).  

In addition to the above factors, social and economic factors may impact the elderly and may be associated with increased risk of suicide, as well as, the relatively small size of the elderly population may inflate suicide rates per 100,000 people.

Depression has been long acknowledged as a risk factor for suicide attempts and completion among the elderly.  This recognition and treatment for depression in the elderly is often complicated by coexisting health problems which amplifies the core focus of mental health objectives, identifying those at high risk, and recognizing the hazards and circumstances that are associated with self-directed injury (2).


Suicide among the Elderly: Issues Facing Public Health

American Journal of Public Health September 1991


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