Attempted suicide in the elderly: characteristics of suicide attempters 70 years and older and a general population comparison group

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2010 Jan;18(1):57-67. doi: 10.1097/JGP.0b013e3181bd1c13.


Objective: To identify factors associated with attempted suicide in the elderly.

Design: Social, psychological, and psychiatric characteristics were compared in suicide attempters (70 years and older) and a representative population sample.

Settings: Emergency departments at five hospitals in western Sweden and a representative sample of the elderly population.

Participants: Persons with Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) score <15 were excluded. One hundred forty persons who sought hospital treatment after a suicide attempt were eligible and 103 participated (57 women, 46 men, and mean age 80 years). Comparison subjects matched for gender and age group (N = 408) were randomly selected among participants in our general population studies.

Measurements: Symptoms were rated with identical instruments in cases and comparison subjects. The examination included the MMSE and tests of short- and long-term memory, abstract thinking, aphasia, apraxia, and agnosia. Depressive symptomatology was measured using the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale, and major and minor depressions were diagnosed according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, using symptom algorithms.

Results: Factors associated with attempted suicide included being unmarried, living alone, low education level, history of psychiatric treatment, and previous suicide attempt. There was no association with dementia. Odds ratios were increased for both major (odds ratio [OR]: 47.4, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 19.1-117.7) and minor (OR: 2.6, 95% CI: 1.5-4.7) depressions. An association was observed between perceived loneliness and attempted suicide; this relationship was independent of depression (OR: 2.8, 95% CI: 1.3-6.1).

Conclusions: Observed associations mirrored those previously shown for completed suicide. Results may help to inform clinical decisions regarding suicide risk evaluation in this vulnerable and growing age group.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition
  • Dementia / diagnosis
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Population Groups / psychology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology*
  • Sweden