Findings: Suicide in Long-Term Care
Our 2.2. million older adults who live in long-term care settings are often overlooked when examining the nation’s growing suicide problem. A six-month investigation by Kaiser Health News and PBS NewsHour found elderly suicide in long-term care happening at surprising rates.
Researchers run into difficulty gathering precise data on suicide in long-term care because there’s no federal regulation to track suicide specifically. However, it’s clear that hundreds of residents are committing suicide each year and thousands more are at risk. Up to a third of people living in long-term care have suicidal behavior (thoughts or attempts). And, about half of residents suffer symptoms of depression.
What’s surprising to many is that suicide rates in long-term care facilities appear to be about as high as in the general population, despite the supervised environment. Experts agree suicide is a complex issue with many factors involved. However, these reports on elderly suicide in long-term care shed light on several areas for all of us to consider…
Awareness: Mental Health in Older Adults
As a society, we underdiagnose or misdiagnose mental health issues in older adults. For example, elders with depression frequently present with confusion, cognitive issues and personality changes. Often, family members and even doctors misinterpret these as dementia or related to health and aging issues.
What does this mean for you? It’s vital to learn more about mental health in the elderly and be an advocate for our loved ones. Learn more: Myths and Facts about Depression and Suicide in Elders. Do not hesitate to reach out for help. If you’re concerned about a loved one and not sure what to do, contact us anytime.
Improving Quality of Life and Healthy Aging
Awareness is the first step, but then we need to take action. Check out some of our ideas in Combatting Depression (It Isn’t Easy Living Alone.). Though this article focuses on seniors living at home who may be isolated, it’s clear these problems don’t automatically cease in a long-term care setting.
In the larger context, we need to be rethinking aging (or even just thinking about aging, rather than avoiding it!). What makes for a meaningful life? How do people stay connected and maintain a sense of purpose as they face the challenges of aging? What planning can we do so that we maintain some control over life as we age? What gives us the will to live? Can we have honest conversations about end of life, quality of life and our fears about aging and death?
As our care managers have worked with clients and families over the years, we have seen a huge gap in the experience of aging. This gap is not based on the medical conditions or health of the person. Mostly, it is based on the attitude they (and their families and providers) take, communication and planning. Those that express their concerns and plan ahead, while not being able to control everything, gain a sense of agency. Two people with almost identical circumstances can have vastly different experiences.
Take control of your experience of aging. Get your free copy of our Comprehensive Aging Wisely Checklist and schedule a consultation today.
Transitioning to Long-Term Care: A High-Risk Time for Elderly Suicide
We can all understand how difficult it can be for a person moving to a long-term care facility. Elders face an increased risk of suicide for up to eight months after transitioning to a long-term care facility. They’re dealing with not only a huge amount of change, but a sense of loss. Therefore, we need to support elders better before, during and after this transition.
An elder who feels involved in the process comes to the situation with a different perspective. This points to the need to plan well in advance of a crisis and discuss these issues. While no one likes to do so, we simply must. Though there are situations where it feels like there’s “no choice” there are typically ways to involve the person in the process and offer options.
Next, we need to really think through how to support our loved one as they transition to a new setting. In what ways can we help them adjust, introduce them to the new routine and people? How can we keep them connected with their favorite things and what makes life meaningful to them?
Care Planning and Monitoring
In order to ensure a smoother transition and address these issues, we must make care planning more holistic. While it’s vital to properly handle medication and nutrition needs, the emotional, spiritual and social components are equally important. We should place more emphasis on these factors within all types of senior care and service structures.
As one family member shared with PBS: “I think the biggest thing is connection. If you have no connection, if your voice is no longer heard, why? What’s the why for life? And just having someone to listen to you, to tell your story to — my dad had a great story. He loved to tell it, but no one was listening anymore.”
When building a care plan, our care managers evaluate diverse areas like socialization, activities and emotional health, and make recommendations to help with continued quality of life. Our caregiver training focuses a lot on communication and our care plans build in personal histories and preferences. No one wants to be reduced to a disease or set of tasks.
Another important takeaway from this report is that long-term care facilities cannot monitor residents as closely as some believe. This means residents need oversight and advocacy. Care facilities generally do an excellent job, but it is a group care setting. Family members and a care manager visiting on a regular basis may notice things that could go overlooked. They can ask questions and ensure the resident gets the evaluation and treatment needed.
Need help? Want to talk to someone about your concerns?
Reach out to learn more about services like planning, transition support, advocacy and personalized care. You can also call us anytime at 727-447-5845 or 813-333-5020.