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Risk factors for older adult suicide vary by age group: study

Academics are calling for a more comprehensive approach to older adult suicide prevention, following findings that there are a range of age-related risk factors associated with its prevalence.

Using the Queensland Suicide Register, researchers from Griffith University’s Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP) looked at the trends in suicides of older adults from 2000 to 2012 and examined subgroups with age ranges of 65–74, 75–84 and 85 and over.

They found that although the rates are not increasing, they remain consistently high, especially for men.

While the suicide figures for women remained static across the three age subgroups, at about five suicides per 100,000 people, the prevalence of suicide for men became more frequent in older age groups.

For the younger age group, there was an average of 20 male suicides per 100,000 people, for the second subgroup, 27 male suicides per 100,000 and the third subgroup, 41 male suicides per 100,000.

Dr Kairi Kolves and her team concluded that suicide risks among older adults are not all the same and added there may be different risk factors depending on the stage of older adulthood, as life events change as people age.

“For example, we found that being widowed, being bereaved or having a circulatory or sensory disorder were more common in people aged over 85 who died by suicide,” Kolves said. “Whereas having a psychiatric disorder or untreated mental health problems were not such prominent factors for suicide in this age group, when compared with the younger groups.”

Kolves said strategies should not be limited to the care of psychiatric conditions, and added: “In particular, between the sexes, it would seem that the existing health strategies appear to work better for older women, with older men still seemingly reluctant to talk about the issues.”

She called for holistic, comprehensive approaches to suicide prevention among older adults.

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