Association between physical illness and suicide among the elderly

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2002 Apr;37(4):190-7. doi: 10.1007/s001270200014.


Background: Only a few small studies have explored the association between various physical illnesses and suicide in the elderly and they have produced inconsistent results. Thus, we undertook this larger study to more definitively assess the association between elderly suicide and physical illness.

Methods: This case-control study compared the proportion with physical illnesses among 822 cases who committed suicide with that among 944 controls who died due to motor vehicle accident at age 55 years or over in Alberta, Canada.

Results: Compared to the motor vehicle accident deaths, the elderly who committed suicide were more likely to have cancer, ischemic heart disease, chronic pulmonary disease, peptic ulcer, prostatic disorder, depression and other psychiatric illnesses. There was no significant difference in the proportion of cerebrovascular disease and diabetes mellitus between the case and control groups before adjustment of demographic and clinical characteristics. After adjustment of these variables, the elderly with any of the following illnesses were more likely to die by suicide than those without the illness: cancer (adjusted odds ratio [95% confidence interval]: 1.73 [1.16-2.58]), prostatic disorder (excluding prostatic cancer, 1.70 [1.16-2.49]), chronic pulmonary disease among the married (1.86 [1.22-2.83]), depression (6.70 [4.72-9.50]) or other psychiatric illness (2.16 [1.68-2.76]). There was no evidence that ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, peptic ulcer and diabetes mellitus might be associated with suicide in the elderly.

Conclusions: Cancer, prostatic disorder, chronic pulmonary disease among the married and psychiatric illness appear to be associated with suicide among the elderly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged / psychology*
  • Alberta / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*