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Serious physical illness linked to suicide in later life

Burden of illness and suicide in elderly people: case-control study, BMJ Volume 324, pp 1355-7

BMJ

Most people who commit suicide late in life suffer from depression, but the role of physical illness is less clear. A study in this week's BMJ finds that serious physical illness also carries an increased risk of suicide in elderly people.

Researchers in Sweden examined the records of 46 men and 39 women, aged 65 years and over, who had committed suicide. They compared these with 84 men and 69 women of the same age, living in the same area (controls). Interviews were also conducted with relatives of the suicide victims and control persons.

They found that impaired vision, neurological disorders, and malignant disease were all independently associated with suicide. When the sexes were analysed separately, serious physical illness seemed to be a stronger predictor in men than in women.

Many elderly people who commit suicide consult their doctor a short time before their death, but many fail to communicate their despair, say the authors. Further research should focus on the detection and treatment of depression and suicidal ideation in the context of physical disease, they conclude.

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