Elderly Suicides Linked to Illnesses

Increased risk associated with chronic diseases

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WEDNESDAY, June 16, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Increased suicide risk among elderly people is associated with many common illnesses that affect older people, says a new Canadian study.

Researchers studied the prescription records in the province of Ontario for 1,329 people 66 years and older who committed suicide between Jan. 1, 1992 and Dec. 31, 2000.

Of those people (1,012 men, 317 women), the most common methods of suicide were: firearms (28 percent); hanging (24 percent), and self poisoning (21 percent). The illnesses associated with the largest increases in suicide risk among these elderly people were depression, bipolar disorder and severe pain.

Several other chronic illnesses also associated with increased suicide risk were seizure disorder, congestive heart failure, and chronic lung disease. Treatment for multiple illnesses was strongly associated with increased suicide risk.

Most of the people who committed suicide saw a doctor in the month before they died -- half of them in the preceding week.

"Our findings have important implications for prevention because most elderly patients who commit suicide visit a physician shortly beforehand, and many of them have clinically recognizable features of depression at the time," the study authors wrote.

"Physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals should be alert to the possible threat of suicide in elderly patients with chronic illness, particularly in patients with multiple illnesses, symptoms of depression, or other risk factors for suicide," they added.

Their findings are published in the June issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

More information

The National Institute of Mental Health has more about older people, depression and suicide.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives, news release, June 14, 2004

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