May 18, 2010 / 9:16 PM / 9 years ago

Suicide a risk in retirement, nursing communities

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Seniors who move into residential homes are often at risk for suicide, yet these communities are ill equipped to deal with these problems, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

Older adults typically move to residential homes because of failing health, loss of a spouse or financial insecurity, all factors that can raise the risk of suicide, they said.

“These adjustments, coupled with an array of risk factors commonly found among seniors — such as depression, hopelessness, and functional impairment — can result in suicidal behaviors,” Carol Podgorski of the University of Rochester in New York and colleagues wrote in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine.

Widowing, divorce, substance abuse, loss and family discord also can push an older adult toward suicide, Podgorski said in a statement.

Yet policies regarding the best way to deal with suicide prevention in these settings are sparse, she said.

That may become more important as the first baby boomers start turning 65 in 2011.

According to Alliance for Aging Research, by 2030 almost one out of every five Americans, or 72 million people, will be 65 or older, and about 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic health condition.

Currently, adults over 65 make up 12.4 percent of the U.S. population, yet they account for 14 percent of all suicides, the team reported.

Suicides are highest among white men over 85. Methods vary by gender. Women are more likely to use suffocation or poisoning, including prescription drugs, while men are more likely to use firearms, Podgorski said.

“About 75 percent of older adults who die by suicide have never made a prior attempt, but because they tend to use more lethal means, they are more likely to die in an attempt,” Podgorski and colleagues wrote.

They said public health systems and residential communities can counter suicidal behavior in residential communities by:

* Identifying at risk seniors who are depressed;

* Increasing access to mental health and substance abuse services;

* Treating medical conditions and chronic pain;

* Promoting social networks and support;

* Decreasing access to firearms, drugs and other lethal means of suicide.

The full study appears here.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000254 .

Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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