NEW ORLEANS – Rates of suicide are highest, proportionately, among the elderly, and seem to be very high among seniors who receive home care in the Rochester, N.Y., area, according to a poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry.
Thomas Richardson, P.A., and his coinvestigator, Dr. Yeates Conwell, both of the University of Rochester, were looking for precursors of suicide in an attempt to determine how to prevent it.
They randomly selected and interviewed clients receiving home care through the Aging Services Network of Rochester. Overall, 211 patients were selected. Most were white (88%) and female (69%), and 101 patients (48%) lived alone. The mean age was 77 years, with a range of 60–102. This also was a fairly low-income group, with almost 45% of the patients having an income of less than $1,250 a month.
They were evaluated using the Paykel Suicide Scale, the physical activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living scales, a modified version of the Louisville Older Persons Events Scale, Lubben Social Network Scale, and the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support.
Of the 211 patients, 65 admitted to feeling that life was not worth living in the past year, 44 said they had wished they were dead, 21 thought of taking their own life, and 8 seriously considered taking their own life, they wrote.
Some of the patients had these thoughts before. Seven percent, or 14 patients, admitted to at least one lifetime suicide attempt and 2 had tried in the past year.
Patients with lower functional status, more stressful life events, and less social support were at higher risk for suicidal ideation.
Mr. Richardson said the rates were surprising to him, despite the high numbers of suicides nationally each year. He and Dr. Conwell are hoping to build a network of providers who can reach out to these home-based patients and provide suicide prevention and treatment. They have received a 5-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to develop a system in which social workers would treat home care patients for depression and interface with physicians.