Elderly Suicide in Long-Term Care Facilities

Making the transition from an independent life to living in a nursing home is rarely easy for an elderly person.  Fear, anger, anxiety, and many more emotions can make the anticipation of this lifestyle change dangerous.  What are the risk factors and methods of mitigation that can be used to prevent a tragedy?

Transitioning from Home to Nursing Home

The time period between when the decision is made to move to a nursing home and the actual move-in date is critical.  In some cases, the prospect of this lifestyle change is enough to make an elderly person consider suicide as an option.  Some of the reasons for this include:

  • Fear of loneliness;
  • Perceived loss of freedom;
  • Mental illness;
  • They see an opportunity to commit suicide while they have time alone before they move to the long-term care facility; and/or
  • They feel they lack purpose.

Look for These Signs

Some elderly people will just come out and tell you they are having suicidal thoughts.  However, in many cases, it is up to the people around them to recognize the signs:

  • Changes in behavior, such as eating and sleeping habits;
  • Avoiding previously enjoyable activities;
  • Choosing isolation;
  • Vocalizing a feeling of loss of independence and/or purpose;
  • Actively preparing for death by giving away their prized possessions;
  • Fixating on death;
  • Waning interest in their appearance;
  • Increased alcohol and/or medication use; and/or
  • Exhibiting the willingness to participate in high risk behavior.

This list is not all-encompassing, but if you notice your elderly loved one is showing these signs, you may consider talking to them about their mindset and intentions.

Elderly Suicide Statistics

According to a published journal article from 2013:

  • 11% – 43% of the long-term care facility populations exhibit suicidal ideations.
  • 5 to 34.8 out of every 100,000 long-term care residents commits suicide.
  • The rate of suicide amongst women increased 60% from 1999 – 2010.

What Can Be Done?

It may not be possible to completely prevent elderly suicide.  However, new ideas are being considered to mitigate this tragedy.  It may seem as easy as putting a trained staff member in each resident’s room if there is concern for suicidal ideation, but that is extremely labor intensive.  Many institutions order well-being checks every 15 minutes if a resident exhibits any risk factors.

A recent article from the American Association For Marriage and Family Therapy emphasizes the importance of utilizing a mental health therapist.  They claim that using a combination of medication and therapy has allowed over 80% of geriatric patients to recover from depression.

If your elderly loved one is exhibiting signs of depression or suicidal ideation, they need help.  Resources such as the Institute on Aging and Suicide Prevention Lifeline can offer guidance.  If your loved one has already committed or attempted suicide and you believe their long-term care facility could have prevented it, you need the skills and experience of a licensed attorney.

Christopher C. Walton is an award-winning attorney that services the San Diego and Temecula Valley Regions.  He is skilled and experienced in the field of elder abuse and neglect.  Contact Chris at (866) 338-7079.