April 23, 2019

Suicide Prevention in the Older Adult Population

Arkansas State University

By Alex Henry, BS-CD & Hannah Speer, OTD/S
College of Nursing and Health Professions
Arkansas State University


Every day 10,000 people turn 65 years old (Heimlich & Heimlich, 2014). Because of this, the elderly adult population is increasing rapidly. Of this elderly population, 40% will need some form of long term care whether it be an assisted living facility or a nursing home (Mezuk, Lohman, Leslie, & Powell, 2015). The rapid growth of this cohort makes one percent of elderly adults who commit suicide extremely alarming (Mills, Gallimore, Watts, & Hemphill, 2016). Adults 65 years and older, specifically men, have a suicide rate of 30 per 100,000 (Mezuk, Lohman, Leslie, & Powell, 2015). Forma et al. (2017) found that of elderly adults who committed suicide, 70% had been admitted to the hospital within the last two years. Of the 70% who committed suicide, 36.8% had been discharged from the hospital within the previous month. There are many factors to consider in looking at suicide in the elderly population. The elements can be as personal as social isolation, feeling like a burden to the family, depression as well as facility issues such as high staff turnover and the number of beds (Mezuk, Lohman, Leslie, & Powell, 2015). This significant number of factors coincides with an alarming rate of suicide in the elderly population. These factors should be taken into consideration by the facility staff both in the hospital and in long term care facilities. Staff, especially nurses, should be educated to identify risk factors of depression and suicide and to monitor the mental health of the patients.

A research study conducted by Mospan, Hess, Blackwelder, Grover, & Dula (2017) recognized the role of the primary care provider in taking properly monitoring patients at risk for suicide. The researchers found that nurses rarely used their knowledge of suicide prevention (p. 537). They suggested an educational intervention which provided a variety of online, live, and asynchronous learning activities (for example) to help bridge the gap. Cheryl et al. (2013) conducted a study involving the competencies for educating advanced practice and general psychiatric mental health nurses. The researchers found that there are no standard competencies for teaching or assessing suicide risk.  However, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association’s position on this topic is that it is the individual nurse’s responsibility to complete research for his or her evidence-based practice to treat patients with mental illness (Cheryl et al., 2013). Based on these studies, student nurses and nurses already in the field should both be able to detect signs of suicide in their elderly patients and to learn about suicide prevention. All facility staff, nurses especially, should take the initiative in developing their skills to understand the risk of suicide in their patients better.





Mospan, C., Hess, R., Blackwelder, R., Grover, S., & Dula, C. (2017). A two-year review of suicide ideation assessments among medical, nursing, and pharmacy students. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 31(4), 537-539.  doi: 10.1080/13561820.2017.1301900

Cheryl, P., Janet, Y., Barbara, L., Pamela, G., Eric, A., & Deborah, H. (2013). Competency-based training for PMH nurse generalists: Inpatient intervention and prevention of suicide. Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, (4), 205. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/1078390313496275

Heimlich, R., & Heimlich, R. (2014, February 07). Baby boomers retire. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2010/12/29/baby-boomers-retire/

Forma, L., Aaltonen, M., Pulkki, J., Raitanen, J., Rissanen, P., & Jylha, M. (2017). Care service use in 2 years preceding suicide among older adults: Comparison with those who died a natural death and those who lived longer. European Journal of Ageing, 2, 143. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s10433-016-0397-9

Mills, P. D., Gallimore, B. I., Watts, B. V., & Hemphill, R. R. (2016). Suicide attempts and completions in Veterans Affairs nursing home care units and long-term care facilities: a review of root-cause analysis reports. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 31(5), 518. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.library.astate.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=114190206&site=eds-live&scope=site

Mezuk, B., Lohman, M., Leslie, M., & Powell, V. (2015). Suicide risk in nursing homes and assisted living facilities: 2003-2011. American Journal of Public Health, 105(7), 1495–1502. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302573

World Health Organization. (2014). Preventing suicide: A global imperative. Retrieved from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/131056/9789241564779_eng.pdf;jsessionid=61FB77728ABF43079DC58810EFB7F8B0?sequence=1