January 1991

Suicide Attempts by the Old and the Very Old

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, University of Louisville (Ky) School of Medicine.

Arch Intern Med. 1991;151(1):141-144. doi:10.1001/archinte.1991.00400010143022

Attempted suicide by the elderly is a major psychiatric problem. Ninety-five patients between 60 and 90 years of age were evaluated by a psychiatric consultation service after a suicide attempt. Characteristics of this group included (1) a high degree of premeditation, (2) a tendency toward firearm use and wounds to the head, (3) male sex, (4) coexisting medical problems, (5) serious intent that increased by decade, (6) solitary living arrangements, (7) presence or history of a major psychiatric illness, and (8) ill health reported as a precipitant to suicidality. Major depression was the most common psychiatric diagnosis, with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease the most frequently noted physical ailments. This elderly population of attempters resembled older persons who actually completed suicide and differed significantly from 1630 persons aged 16 to 59 years who attempted suicide. Heightened investigation of depressive features, treatment of alcohol abuse, early referral for psychiatric care, limited access to firearms, and strategies aimed at decreasing social isolation are recommended to decrease the likelihood of completed suicide in the elderly.

(Arch Intern Med. 1991;151:141-144)