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Suicide Prevention For Older Adults

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What do I need to know about suicide prevention for older adults?

An older person may see suicide as the only way to escape emotional or physical pain and suffering. You can help provide emotional support for him or her and get the help he or she needs. Learn to recognize warning signs that the person may be considering suicide. Find resources to help prevent the person from attempting to take his or her life.

What should I do if I think the person is considering suicide?

Call 911 if you feel the person is at immediate risk of suicide, or if he or she talks about an active suicide plan. Assume that the person intends to carry out his or her plan. Resources are available to help you and the person. The following are some things you can do:

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) .
  • Call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) .
  • Contact the person's therapist. His or her healthcare provider can give you a list of therapists if he or she does not have one.
  • Keep medicines, weapons, and alcohol out of the person's reach. Do not leave the person alone if he or she says they want to commit suicide. Do not leave the person alone if you think he or she may try it. Make sure you do not put yourself at risk if the person has a weapon.
  • Do not be afraid to ask if the person is thinking of ending his or her life. Ask if the person has a plan for hurting or killing himself or herself.

What warning signs should I watch for?

It is common for an older person to talk about death and dying, especially if he or she has a worsening medical condition. This makes it difficult to recognize when an older person is planning suicide. The following are warning signs to watch for:

  • Talking about his or her plan to commit suicide, or suddenly deciding to make a will
  • A change in how he or she talks about death, such as suddenly talking about it when he or she never did before, or suddenly not talking about it
  • Saying he or she sees no reason to live
  • Saying he or she should end their life to prevent pain and suffering
  • A belief that his or her family will have an easier time when they no longer have to care for him or her
  • Cutting himself or herself, burning the skin with cigarettes, or driving recklessly
  • Drug or alcohol use, not taking prescribed medicine, or taking too much
  • Sudden anger, lashing out at others, or seeming hopeless, anxious, or angry and then suddenly becoming happy or peaceful
  • Not wanting to spend time with others or doing things he or she usually enjoys
  • A change in the way he or she eats, sleeps, or dresses
  • Weight gain or loss, or less energy than usual
  • Trouble sleeping or spending a lot of time sleeping
  • Giving away or throwing away his or her belongings
  • The person has been taking medicine for a mental illness and suddenly stops taking it without talking to a healthcare provider
  • The person has been going to therapy and suddenly stops going

What increases the risk for suicide?

  • Depression or chronic sleep disorders such as insomnia
  • A mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • The death of an important person, or the anniversary of a death
  • Chronic pain or an illness, such as heart disease, cancer, or AIDS
  • Feeling helpless if he or she has to depend on others to survive, or thinking of themselves as a burden to family and friends
  • Financial stress, such as not having enough money for bills
  • A past suicide attempt, or someone close to him or her attempted or committed suicide
  • Physical or sexual abuse in the past or present, or being in an abusive relationship
  • Frustration, anger, or feelings of revenge, or a history of violence or aggression toward others
  • Moving out of his or her home, living alone, or having few friends
  • Divorce or loss of a spouse, or loss of a friendship

How will healthcare providers help the person?

  • Healthcare providers will ask questions about the person's suicide thoughts and plans. They will ask how often he or she thinks about suicide and if he or she has tried it before. They will ask if he or she hurt himself, such as with cutting or reckless driving. They may ask if he or she has access to weapons or drugs. Based on the answers to these questions, the person may be admitted to the hospital. Healthcare providers can closely monitor the person and make sure that he or she stays safe.
  • A healthcare provider will help the person create a safety plan. The plan includes a list of people or groups to contact if he or she has suicidal thoughts again. The list may include friends, family members, a spiritual leader, and others he or she trusts. The person may be asked to make a verbal agreement or sign a contract that he or she will not try to harm himself.

What treatment may the person need?

  • Medicines may be given to prevent mood swings, or to decrease anxiety or depression. The person will need to take all medicines as directed. A sudden stop can be harmful. It may take 4 to 6 weeks for the medicine to help him or her feel better.
  • A therapist can help the person identify and change negative feelings or beliefs about himself or herself. This may also help change the way the he or she feels and acts. A therapist can also help the person find ways to cope with things that cannot be changed.

What can I do to help the person?

  • Encourage the person to seek help for drug or alcohol abuse. Drugs and alcohol can increase suicidal thoughts and make the person more likely to act on them.
  • Help the person connect with others. Encourage him or her to become involved in the community. Some examples include tutoring a young student, volunteering at a local organization, or joining a group exercise program. The person may need help setting up a computer or creating an e-mail account to help him or her remain connected to others.
  • Exercise with the person. Exercise can lift his or her mood, increase energy, and make it easier to sleep at night.
  • Encourage the person to try new things. Older adults who are open to new experiences handle stress and change better than those who are not.
  • Call, visit, or send postcards to the person often. Check on him or her after the loss of a pet, longtime friend, or child. Holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries can be difficult for a person after a loss. The loss of a spouse can be especially painful and lonely.
  • Help the person schedule a visit with his or her religious or spiritual leader. A religious or spiritual leader may be able to offer additional support and resources to the person.
  • Help the person get equipment that will increase his or her comfort and mobility. Examples are hearing aids, glasses, large print books, and walkers. These can help him or her enjoy activities and feel more independent.
  • Encourage the person to continue taking medicine and going to therapy. Medicine and therapy can help improve his or her mental health.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    NA
    New York , NY 10004
    Phone: 1- 800 - 273-TALK (8255)
    Web Address: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
  • Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
    8120 Penn Ave. S., Ste. 470
    Bloomington , Minnesota 55431
    Phone: 1- 952 - 946-7998
    Web Address: http://www.save.org

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • The person has done something on purpose to hurt himself or herself.
  • The person tries to commit suicide.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • The person tells you he or she made a plan to commit suicide.
  • The person acts out in anger, is reckless, or is abusing alcohol or drugs.
  • The person has serious thoughts of suicide, even after treatment.

When should I contact the person's healthcare provider?

  • You begin to see warning signs that the person may be considering suicide.
  • The person has intense feelings of sadness, anger, revenge, or despair, or he cannot make decisions easily.
  • The person tells you he or she has more thoughts of suicide when they are alone.
  • The person withdraws from others.
  • The person stops eating, or begins to smoke or drink heavily.
  • The person feels he or she is a burden because of a disability or disease.
  • The person has trouble dealing with stress, such as a breakup or a job loss.
  • You have questions or concerns about the person's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2017 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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