THE ELDERLY AND SUICIDE

Robin Williams’ suicide should serve as a wake up call for many of us who did not understand how depression affects older adults. It is estimated that 6.5 million of the 35 million adults over the age of 65 suffer from depression. This seems to be, in many instances, attributed to loss of independence, acknowledgment of one’s mortality, disability and loss.  In the case of Robin Williams, it is speculated that his Parkinson’s diagnosis may had been a factor in his decision to commit suicide.

The Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention reported that the rate of suicide for the elderly for 2007 was 14.3 per 100,000. White men over the age of 85, were at the greatest risk of all age-gender-race groups. In 2007, the suicide rate for these men was 45, 42 per 100,000.

According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide rates among older adults is believed to under-reported. In fact, men in their 50’s and early 60’s (Robin Williams’ age bracket), the rates have increased. It is interesting to note that though young people make more suicide attempts, older adults are more successful in carrying it out. This is a result of the lack of the physical acumen they once possessed.

Depression seems to be the most causal symptom of suicide among this group.  Also, the fear of appearing helpless, not feeling valuable or wanted also leads older adults to comtemplate suicide. It is so important that family members and friends observe signs of depression and social isolation. Here are some warning signs from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT):

  • Loss of interest in things or activities that are usually found enjoyable
  • Cutting back social interaction, self-care, and grooming
  • Breaking medical regimens (such as going off diets, prescriptions)
  • Experiencing or expecting a significant personal loss (spouse or other)
  • Putting affairs in order, giving things away, or making changes in wills
  • Stock-piling medication or obtaining other lethal means
  • Other clues are a preoccupation with death or a lack of concern about personal safety
  • Remarks such as “This is the last time that you’ll see me” or “I won’t be needing anymore appointments” should raise concern.
    The most significant indicator is an expression of suicidal intent.

As I always mention, please report all incidents to the proper authorities. You can also find information on the National Center on Elder Abuse’s website at http://www.ncea.aoa.gov. Please feel free to leave your questions or comments.

References:
American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Center for Disease and Control
Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention

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MAKING THE HARD DECISIONS FOR YOUR AGING PARENTS

When one realizes that their parent is starting to exhibit signs that they need help, decisions must be made. It is probably the most tragic thing to witness. To think that this person that raised you into an adult is now is need of care is heartbreaking.

Many times the parent is in denial and will become obstinate and refused to admit help is needed. I have learned that you cannot engage in an argument. You must first have empathy for the hand that was just dealt to them.

The very idea of relying on someone for assistance for a parent is scary. That parent is being asked to take a risk and let someone intervene in decisions that they have made years prior. As an adult child, you must understand their plight and also help that parent feel a sense of independence and pride.

Dr. Rob Crankshaw made this suggestions:

  • Give elderly parents every opportunity to continue to make their own decisions. It may take a crisis, but at some point it will become clear to all involved that a change in level of care is necessary.  Hopefully the crisis will not result in permanent physical damage.
  • Recognize that sweeping changes may not be necessary.  Sometimes smaller modifications like Occupational Therapy or a change in medication may be all that is needed. (that was hard for me because I became fixated on making it work now).
  • Be aware of your parent’s possible feelings of embarrassment, shame and impotence as more decisions are made for them.  Use humor, self-deprecation, and a positive outlook to help the elderly from focusing on their loss of independence.  Find a positive side of any negative occurrence without belittling what elders are going through (this may be the most important suggestion).

We forget, during our pubescence, our parents would become objects of embarrassment. We did not walk them to walk us to school or show public displays of affection. Our parents, despite their hurt, took  it on the chin knowing that we were trying to become independent. I would encourage adult children to remember that image and exercise patience with your aging parents.

I also caution adult children that if they need support to seek it out.  Adult children who become frustrated often turn into becoming abusive to their parent.  Share the load with your siblings, if you have them.

I want to add something I heard watching the Queen Latifah Show.  Swoosie Kurtz, the famous Broadway, movie and TV star, is taking care of the mother. Her mother has a “touch of dementia”, as she refers to it. One day her mother asked her if she was in the way. Her response was, “no mom, you are the way.”  To me, that says it all.

As I always mention, please report all incidents to the proper authorities. You can also find information on the National Center on Elder Abuse’s website at http://www.ncea.aoa.gov.

Please feel free to leave your questions or comments.