Study finds 'substantial' risk of suicide among LTC residents, cites staff influence

Suicide risk among residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities is “substantial,” according to a study published in the July issue of The American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers studied suicide statistics and locations in Virginia from 2003 to 2011 and found that around 3% of suicides among adults 50 and older during that time were related to long-term care in some way, including 51 deaths that occurred in a facility. The data also indicated that 38 people who had committed suicide between 2003 and 2011 were anticipating being moved into a long-term care facility, and five had recently been discharged.

The study also found that facilities where a resident suicide had taken place had higher proportions of residents with elevated depressive symptoms. Researchers cited the high prevalence of depression and suicidal ideation in long-term facilities as a factor, and noted that depression is more commonly diagnosed among new nursing home residents than dementia is.

“Although it is not uncommon for residents to talk about dying, including expressing thoughts about suicide, staff are often reluctant to engage residents in these discussions,” the researchers wrote. “Residents often express relatively little anxiety about death, but rather concern about becoming dependent, including being distressed by witnessing the functional decline of other residents.”

The study emphasized research that indicates the positive role long-term care staff can have in promoting psychosocial well-being among residents. It also noted that long-term care facilities may be an important point of engagement in suicide prevention.