In the past couple of months or so there has been an uptick in the number of media stories about old people taking their lives and, according to those articles, there is an alarming increase in the suicide rate among the U.S. older population.
”In a nation where suicide continues to climb, claiming more than 47,000 lives in 2017, such deaths among older adults...are often overlooked.”
”Poor documentation makes it difficult to tell exactly how often such deaths occur,” reports the KNH/PBS study. “But a KHN analysis of new data from the University of Michigan suggests that hundreds of suicides by older adults each year — nearly one per day — are related to long-term care.
“Thousands more people may be at risk in those settings, where up to a third of residents report suicidal thoughts, research shows.”
According to federal statistics, 16,500 suicides were reported among people 55 and older in 2017 – 364 of them among people living in or moving to long-term care settings – or among caregivers.
Dr. Yeates Conwell is director of the Office for Aging Research and Health Services at the University of Rochester. He says the main risk factors for senior suicide are what are called “the four D’s”: depression, debility, access to deadly means and disconnectedness.
“'Pretty much all of the factors that we associate with completed suicide risk are going to be concentrated in long-term care,'” said Conwell.
Veterans are among the highest risk for suicide in recent years:
”The VA National Suicide Data Report for 2005 to 2016, which came out in September 2018, highlights an alarming rise in suicides among veterans age 18 to 34 — 45 per 100,000 veterans.
“Younger veterans have the highest rate of suicide among veterans, but those 55 and older still represent the largest number of suicides.”
Most seniors who choose to end their lives don’t talk about it in advance, and they often die on the first attempt, he said.
(The suicides referred to in the KHN/PBS article - and others I consulted - are not about people like me who have chosen, when the time comes, medically-assisted suicide. That's a different kind of end-of-life choice with different issues.)
The KNH/PBS research relates the story of Paul Andrews whose father died by his own hand. Andrews says he was “shocked, devastated and even angry about his dad’s death. Now, he just misses him.”
”'I always feel like he was gone too soon, even though I don’t think he felt like that at all,' he said.
“Andrews has come to believe that elderly people should be able to decide when they’re ready to die.
“'I think it’s a human right,' he said. 'If you go out when you’re still functioning and still have the ability to choose, that may be the best way to do it and not leave it to other people to decide.'”
Conwell see it differently. He finds the idea of
”...rational suicide by older Americans 'really troublesome.' 'We have this ageist society, and it’s awfully easy to hand over the message that they’re all doing us a favor,' he said.”
Here is a 10-minute video of this research from PBS NewsHour including some additional information.