Nursing home industry advocates are rebuking a Kaiser Health News report claiming that large numbers of seniors are “quietly” committing suicide in facilities across the country.
KHN’s report — based on an analysis of data from the University of Michigan — noted that “hundreds of suicides” by older adults each year are related to long-term care. Thousands more older adults may be at risk in such settings, with up to one-third reporting suicidal thoughts, according to one study.
The American Health Care Association bristled at the story on Wednesday, arguing that data does not back up those claims. While KHN researchers pooled data across a dozen years and found 918 potential suicides related to long-term care, few happened in nursing homes or other LTC settings, said AHCA VP of Public Affairs Beth Martino.
“Suicide is a tragic event, and we offer our deepest sympathy to families who have experienced such a tragedy,” she told McKnight’s. “However, the research cited in this story does not show any significant connection between people actually living in long-term care settings and suicides in the elderly.”
Past data has shown that there are about 26 suicides a year in all long-term care settings, or 0.001% out of the millions admitted annually, she added. Those low rates are due in part to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services regulations requiring all nursing facilities to assess each resident at admission for depression, and develop a care plan to address any depressive symptoms.
“This is a key reason the suicide rate is much lower in long-term care settings than in the community,” Martino said.
KHN tied its report to research presented at last year’s Gerontological Society of America annual meeting, in which researchers from the University of Michigan looked at almost 50,000 suicides among individuals 55 and older, recorded in the National Violent Death Reporting System over a 12-year period. They found that about 2.2% of those suicides were related in some way to LTC.
Kaiser authors then extrapolated those findings across the entire country, where 16,500 suicides were reported among seniors in 2017. That would suggest “at least” 365 suicides a year among individuals living in, or about to move into, a nursing home or other residential care setting.
Martino noted that the report and research combined individuals in nursing homes or assisted living settings with people who are living at home and considering or planning a transition to LTC; suicides reported by caregivers; and suicides in residential care settings.
“These cases do not involve people who actually reside in a nursing home or assisted living community,” Martino said.