Nursing home suicides climb, according to report

Suicide deaths among older adults, reflecting the national trend among all age groups, are climbing. Older Americans residing in nursing homes, assisted living centers and adult care homes are part of this troubling trend, according to a six-month investigation by Kaiser Health News and PBS NewsHour. This raises the issue of whether facilities are engaged in nursing home neglect and abuse by failing to recognize warning signs and preventing suicide.

Although poor documentation restricts exact calculations, hundreds of suicides by older adults was related to long-term care. At least one of these suicides occurred daily. Research also shows that a third of residents report that they have suicidal thoughts.

In research presented to the 2018 Gerontological Society of America annual meeting, researchers reviewed almost 50,000 suicides among people over 55-years-old contained in the National Violent Death Reporting System in 27 states from 2003 to 2015. They reported that 2.2 percent of these suicides involved seniors in long-term care or caregivers.

Nursing homes and other long-term facilities are supposed to be monitored and safe environments. However, these suicides pose questions on whether there is adequate attention to mental health, physical decline, disconnectedness and other risk factors.

Nearly half of all residents are diagnosed with depression, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2013 report. Risks also increase with traumatic events such as a loss of a spouse or leaving home.

Residents may find ways to commit suicide even in supervised settings. Some residents shot themselves even where guns were restricted, hung themselves, jumped from windows, overdosed or suffocated themselves with plastic bags.

Nursing homes have struggled to have enough staffing for basic care. Experts warn that assisted living centers that encourage independence and autonomy can overlook signs of suicide risk.

Screening of seniors entering these facilities should look for depression, debility, access to the means to commit suicide and being disconnected. Nursing homes should also meet requirements for federally-funded facilities such as maintaining the wellbeing of their residents, preventing avoidable accidents and informing family members and doctors if the resident faces the risk of harm.

An attorney can help assure that there is a reasonable standard of care. Lawyers may also commence legal action when nursing homes do not provide this care or comply with the law.

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