Suicide attempts are more likely in individuals in whom dementia or mild cognitive impairment recently has been diagnosed, finds a new study of older men and women. The authors urge clinicians to recommend or connect patients to supportive services shortly after diagnosis to help mitigate the risk.

“Additional supportive services in the care of patients with MCI or dementia are imperative,” wrote lead author Amy L. Byers, Ph.D., MPH, of the University of California, San Francisco.

Among more than 147,000 study participants, the risk of a suicide attempt was consistently highest for those with a recent MCI or dementia diagnosis when compared with a cohort that had no such diagnoses, Byers and colleagues found. Psychiatric, demographic or medical comorbidities did not contribute to the heightened risk, they added.

Receiving an MCI or dementia diagnosis often is a profound life-changing event, Byers noted. To help patients come to terms with their diagnoses sooner rather than later, clinicians can provide continued, individualized post-diagnostic support tailored to a patient’s needs, she and her colleagues suggested. This support could include education as well as services that offer connections to social events, which may help by reducing the effects of isolation on mental health, they wrote. Access to advanced care planning can help a patient come to terms with their condition sooner rather than later, they added.

What’s more, psychological distress and neuropsychiatric symptoms, including depression and anxiety, should be considered important factors in age-related cognitive decline overall, the authors wrote. Mental health services help provide early detection, treatment and management of these symptoms, which can further reduce suicide risk, they said. 

Many providers will not consider mental health services for these patients, presuming that their mental health conditions cannot improve, the authors wrote. But this it not true, and change and relief is possible with proper care, they said. 

Full findings were published in JAMA Psychiatry