Screening for suicidal thoughts and behaviors is on the decline among older adults, according to a recent study. The screening process, used in emergency departments across the country, looks for self-harm, suicide ideation, any suicide attempt, and changes in behavior. Although this type of screening is quite common among younger age groups, screenings decrease as people get older.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, examined the patient charts of eight emergency departments (ED) in seven states and found that of 142,532 ED visits,, 23.3 percent of the individuals were over the age of 60. Documented screening for suicide was found to decline with older age, peaking at around 81 percent for middle-aged or younger adults. The lowest point for screening (68 percent) was among those aged 85 or older.
Lead author of the findings, Dr. Marian Betz, explained, “It is unclear whether our findings are from a bias in care or from older patients being less able to answer questions because of conditions like dementia. Additional research and program development could hopefully help providers better identify older adults at risk of suicide.”
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) released data for 2012 on the number of persons affected by suicidal behavior over the age of 18. Their report outlined over 1.1 million suicide attempts, 405,000 emergency department visits, 129,000 hospitalizations, and 39,426 deaths.
The SPRC report also noted that females are more likely than males to report suicidal behavior, conduct suicidal planning and attempts, and be medically treated for suicide.
Although the report also states that suicidal thoughts and attempts decrease with older age – the highest age group was 18 to 25 years – it is still important that screening continues in these older ages, as successful suicides can still occur. Continued screening in middle-aged adults can help spot suicidal thoughts early on, thus providing the necessary resources in order to better prevent suicide in the future.
“Screening for suicidal thoughts and behaviors declines with patient age,” Eureka Alert, http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-09/w-sfs090616.php, last accessed September 8, 2016.
“Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts,” Suicide Prevention Resource Center, http://www.sprc.org/scope/attempts, last accessed September 8, 2016.
Betz, M. E., et. Al., “Screening for suicidal thoughts and behaviors in older adults in the emergency department,” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, DOI: 10.1111/jgs.14529, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jgs.14529/abstract, last accessed September 8, 2016.