More Suicide Prevention Needed For Seniors
> 9/19/2007 1:54:18 PM

Getting older often means retiring, following special diets, taking increasing numbers of pills, losing loved ones, and maybe moving to a retirement facility or nursing home. All of these life changes can leave seniors feeling isolated, lonely, and without purpose, so it is not surprising that older adults remain the group most at risk for suicide. According to the American Association of Suicidology, the rate of suicide for the general population in 2004 was 11 per 100,000. In adults over 65, the rate increased to 14 per 100,000, while for white men over the age of 85, the rate reached 48 per 100,000. Compared with younger adults who attempt suicide, older adults are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. For seniors, one of the main causes of suicide is undiagnosed or untreated depression.

Numerous suicide-programs aim to prevent suicide in children and teens, but programs specifically designed to help older adults are difficult to find. While schools offer a convenient setting for speaking to large numbers of young adults about the factors contributing to suicide, older adults are harder to reach and rarely the target of preventative measures. Both younger and older adults tend to believe that depression is a normal aspect of aging, and this misconception often prevents seniors from seeking help when they become depressed. In addition, mental health problems may go undiagnosed or untreated when the senior suffers from other health problems.

Although less common, some suicide-prevention programs already recognize the importance of reaching out to older adults. Some offer training for people who frequently come into contact with the elderly, teaching them to be aware of the warning signs of depression. Individuals like home health care aids can be especially important at identifying people at risk and alerting appropriate authorities. Hotlines designed especially for seniors can also encourage those in crisis to seek help. The Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention and Grief Counseling, part of San Francisco's Institute of Aging and founded by Dr. Patrick Arbore in 1973, offers a 24 hour Friendship Line for the elderly, grief support, and workshops on suicide prevention. Resources like these offer the elderly a sense of belonging, not only helping those who are suicidal, but  also preventing those who are depressed from becoming suicidal.

With baby boomers now entering their sixties, suicide rates among the elderly could rise. We can all help by learning the warning signs of depression in older adults and being aware of how common suicide in the elderly population really is. The more we acknowledge the problem and the more we focus on ways to solve it, the more successful we will be at preventing these tragic losses.

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