How common is suicide among older adults?

Maureen Q. Russell, MPH, RN
Geriatric Medicine

The suicide rate among older adults has been trending downwards over the past decade. However, it does remain significantly higher than the general population. This is especially true of our elder men over the age of 85.

When elders consider suicide, they tend to plan carefully, communicate their intent less often (or less openly), and use highly lethal means. In teens and young adults the ratio of suicide attempts to deaths by suicide is as high as 200:1. In elders it is 4:1. Clearly, when elders attempt suicide - they intend to die.

What we can do to help:

  • attend a suicide prevention gatekeeper training program
  • aggressively screen and treat for depression in elders
  • be mindful that any statement of not wanting to be a burden to others should trigger concern - and questions about the elder's intent
  • restrict lethal means
  • provide hope - in any meaningful form

One of the warning signs often mentioned: setting one's financial affairs in order/giving away cherished possesions. However many, if not most, elders would consider this "prudent financial planning!" If it is out of character for an individual elder, it is still a sign of real concern.

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner
Older Americans are disproportionately likely to die by suicide. Consider the following:
Although they comprise only 15 percent of the U.S. population, people age 65 to 85 accounted for almost 18 percent of suicide deaths in 2015
15.6 of every 100,000 people age 65 to 74 died by suicide in 2014, higher than the rate of about 13.4 per 100,000 in the general population Non-Hispanic white men age 85 and older were most likely to die by suicide. They had a rate of 51.6 suicide deaths per 100,000 persons in that age group
This answer is based on the source infromation from the National Institute of Mental Health.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.