Nobody likes to think about suicide and older adults. We want to envision our loved ones living out their Golden years in comfortable settings, surrounded by friends and family members as they continue to make memories. We want them to be happy. But facts and figures paint a more unsettling picture. Suicide rates among people aged 75 and older are some of the highest in the country. Suicide attempts by seniors are also more likely to be successful. Older men are more likely to take their lives than older women, with white men over 85 being at the highest risk for suicide among all older adults.
What’s behind these sobering statistics? Why do some seniors find themselves fighting the darkness that leads them to this decision?
Loneliness and isolation
As people age, they may find themselves becoming more and more isolated. Children grow up and move away. Friends retire to the south. They may outlive their spouses, siblings, friends, or pets. If they are still driving, they prefer short trips to long drives. Those weekend jaunts that brought them so much pleasure are now a thing of the past.
Physical mobility issues can restrict even the simplest outing. Seniors may feel uncomfortable navigating the curbs. They may be embarrassed about the oxygen tank they’re carrying or the fact that they’re holding up traffic as they walk down the aisle to their favorite pew at church. The pandemic added another layer of isolation to an already lonely community. Although the world is much more open than it was a year ago, seniors may still feel uncomfortable venturing too far from home.
Depression and other mental health concerns
Many of today’s seniors were raised in a time where people were told to have a stiff upper lip and power through the blues. Yet depression in older adults remains underdiagnosed and undertreated. Many of the diseases associated with aging, including vascular diseases and diabetes, can increase the risk of depression through their physical and psychological effects on the brain. Anxiety disorders can also play a contributing role in suicide among older adults.
The loneliness and isolation mentioned above may exacerbate depression and other mental health concerns.
Aging concerns, physical ailments and pain
They say aging isn’t for the faint of heart. As the body slows down, many people experience painful changes, including arthritis, joint issues, back pain or trouble catching their breath. Some of these changes can be addressed through lifestyle changes and exercise – if the patient has access to a safe place to exercise or can easily modify their daily diets. Like their counterparts who battle depression, though, many seniors will try to power through the pain, afraid to face another hospital stay or weeks of rehabilitation after a hip or knee replacement.
Chronic pain affects not only the body, but the brain and the spirit as well. Seniors who spent their entire lives slaying the proverbial dragons that threatened their loved ones are now afraid to ask their loved ones for help. Their brave promises to never be a burden to their children echo in their minds, as reality shows that nearly everyone needs assistance sometimes.
Again, the image of Grandpa playing with the grandkids clashes with the idea of seniors and substance abuse. Sadly, nearly 1 million people aged 65 and older live with a substance use disorder. Older brains may have difficulty metabolizing alcohol or other substances, making people more sensitive to their effects. Prescription medications can be abused or simply misused by a confused senior who forgets when he took his last painkiller. Such misuse can be a contributing factor to suicidal ideation among seniors.
The question of geriatric suicide has no easy answers. Seniors living alone can be particularly vulnerable if they are lonely or isolated. Today’s senior communities are designed to prioritize senior safety and health. Senior Living Advisor can help families find the right senior living setting for themselves or a loved one. You don’t have to do this alone. If you are interested in learning more about how Senior Living Advisor can help you on this journey, contact us now or call us at 317-973-5570.