June 17 (UPI) -- Lawmakers and medical professionals need to help curb the suicide risk for older adults living in long-term care, a new study shows.
The research, published Monday in JAMA Network Open, highlights the importance of providing emotional well-being and other mental health care services to adults over age 55 who live in, or are thinking of moving into, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.
"There are things we can do to promote the emotional health and psychosocial well-being of people who are living in long-term care facilities or are transitioning into them and their family members," Briana Mezuk, a researcher at University of Michigan's School of Public Health and study lead author, said in a news release.
For the study, the researchers used a computer algorithm to examine data from police and medical examiner reports on 47,759 suicide deaths of people over age 55. The data was collected between 2003 and 2015.
Through that time, more than 1,000 of those suicide deaths occurred in long-term care settings. Among that group, 428 adults committed suicide while living in long-term facilities and 449 were transitioning into or out of long-term care, researchers say.
Beyond patients, 160 adult caregivers helping elderly family members in long-term care or during recovery from a hospitalization, also took their own lives. The study suggests these relatives may have felt stress or fear from the financial burden of providing long-term care.
"We need to be supporting interventions to promote the emotional health of people in their 60s or 70s, 80s and 90s, even if they also happen to have diabetes or they happen to have mobility problems," Mezuk said. "Suicide is a very extreme outcome; it is the tip of the iceberg."
Adults between age 45 and 54 make up 20.2 percent of the suicides in the United States, but rates for people over age 85 come a close second at 20.1 percent, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
"We have a diverse set of tools and techniques for promoting emotional health of older adults and thus reducing suicide risk; they aren't being implemented to their fullest degree," Mezuk said. "Our analysis helps illustrate the importance of addressing this gap."