Mar 09, 2018

Suicide in Aged Care: Why Isolation is Killing Australia’s Elderly

Residential aged care is often the last home people will ever live in. And with a growing ageing population, the aged care sector is rapidly growing.

There are currently more than 170,000 older adults living in nursing homes around the country the aged care sector is already under pressure.

It’s been projected that the number of people aged 65 will be more than double by 2057.

recent study has uncovered that between 2000 and 2013, 140 Australian nursing-home residents took their own lives, and the majority of those were men.

And sadly, those numbers are growing. Isolation and loneliness are seen as the main drivers of the rising suicide rate.

Now experts in geriatric care are calling for better mental health support for patients in nursing homes.

Statistics show that 50 per cent of aged care residents lives with depression, compared to the 10-15 per cent of older people at the same age living in the community.

Professor Joseph Ibrahim, from the Health Law and Ageing Research Unit, Department of Forensic Medicine, Monash University spoke on Radio National about the research that he lead.

“We weren’t surprised that suicides were more likely to occur among older men. What we were surprised by was the number that was occurring in supervised environments,” said Prof. Ibrahim.

“And by that I mean I wouldn’t have expected suicides to be occurring in residential aged care –  it would be the same as suicides occurring in schools and hospitals where they’ve got supervision.”

“So my question is, why would they be occurring?”

According to the research, the people who are most affected are males with a history of depression, who had only moved into aged care in the last 6-9 months.

“So what we know is that this group of people have a past history with a suicide attempt, they have depression, they have difficulty adjusting to the change, which all of us would as moving into aged care is a significant life change where you are leaving your family and leaving your home and we know these affect people in the community.”

Prof. Ibrahim explained that this isn’t surprising and that people know that moving into aged care is highly stressful, “so why aren’t we better able to manage the depression that occurs in residential aged care?”

Prof. Ibrahim’s research has found that there is a lack of access to mental health services for this group of people.

“People aren’t speaking up for the resident, they’re making assumptions that older people in residential care ‘ought to be depressed because life is tough’ and you can’t do anything about it.”

But this is not true, according to Prof. Ibrahim.

“Depression is treatable, it’s a diagnosis that can be managed with psychology, psychiatry, medication and better social engagement.”

“Depression is not a permanent fixture that you can’t do anything about. So why isn’t it being better managed?”

Prof. Ibrahim agrees that there needs to be more access to mental health services for the aged or specific aged care homes that are mental health facilities.

“We know historically, a quarter of people weren’t recognised and at least a quarter of those who were recognised were not being treated.”

Prof. Ibrahim’s research found that thee suicides were more frequent in Summer than in other seasons and three times more likely to occur during a holiday period.

“To suicide, to need an opportunity where staff are not available,” Prof. Ibrahim suggested that poor staffing level may also be a contributing cause of the rising suicide rates.

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