Suicide and the Elderly: Aging Life Care Professionals® Can Help Families Identify Warning Signs

Suicide and the Elderly: Aging Life Care Professionals® Can Help Families Identify Warning Signs

Article published by Aging Life Care Association

 submitted by Bonnie Noble-Silberman, Geriatric Resource Services

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and men over 85 and older have the highest rate of suicide in the country. Suicide in elder adults is a serious concern; social isolation, increasingly frail health, chronic pain, and depression are all factors that can increase an older adult’s risk of suicide.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Administration on Aging (AoA), there are distinct signs that can point to a suicide risk. These include:

  • Depression,
  • Prior suicide attempts,
  • Marked feelings of hopelessness,
  • Co-morbid general medical conditions that significantly limit functioning or life expectancy,
  • Pain and declining role function (e.g., loss of independence or sense of purpose),
  • Social isolation,
  • Family discord or losses (e.g., recent death of a loved one),
  • Inflexible personality or marked difficulty adapting to change,
  • Access to lethal means (e.g., firearms),
  • Alcohol or medication misuse or abuse, and
  • Impulsivity in the context of cognitive impairment.

Help is available. Aging Life Care Professionals®, also known as geriatric care managers, are experts who can help families identify signs of suicide risk and help families proactively prevent such tragedies. The Aging Life Care Association® surveyed its members concerning prevention of suicide in older adults. Of those surveyed, it was found that:

  • 92% of respondents screen their clients for depression at every visit, or as needed/suspected
  • 65% of respondents have worked with a client who has reported feeling suicidal

Once a client has signaled that they have a suicide risk, Aging Life Care Professionals will work with families to help their older loved ones receive the services and support needed to help them. These steps include:

  • Ensure the client receives care for mental and physical health problems
  • Work with the client’s medical providers to ensure the client’s pain is adequately managed
  • Identify and address substance abuse problems (including prescription drugs)
  • Encourage and coordinate opportunities for social connectedness to prevent social isolation
  • Help the client engage in meaningful activities to maximize the client’s quality of life
  • Ensure the client has adequate help to address identified functional and cognitive changes
  • Help the client strengthen their ability to cope with and adapt to change
  • Provide emotional support to the client and the family system
  • Refer the client to appropriate medical and therapeutic services (i.e., psychiatry, psychotherapy, support groups, etc.)

“Teaming with an Aging Life Care Professional to assess for depression and to find creative ways to mitigate isolation can be the life line families are looking for when they see changes in their aging family member,” said Lisa Mayfield, Aging Life Care Association Board President. “We are here to help and can assist families in navigating the tricky balance of honoring independence and ensuring safety. Reach out to an Aging Life Care Professional today to explore ways to support your aging family member.”

If you suspect that your older loved one might be suffering from depression or thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. You can find an Aging Life Care Professional in your area at These experts will help you with assessment, support, and intervention.

If you believe that your older loved one’s risk is urgent, or you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They are available 24 hours a day.

ABOUT the Aging Life Care Association ® (ALCA): ALCA (formerly known as the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers) was formed in 1985 to advance dignified care for older adults and their families in the United States. Aging Life Care Professionals® have extensive training and experience working with older adults, people with disabilities, and families who need assistance with caregiving issues. They assist families in the search for a suitable nursing home placement or extended care if the need occurs. The practice of Aging Life Care™ and the role of care providers have captured a national spotlight, as generations of Baby Boomers age in the United States and abroad. For more information or to access a nationwide directory of Aging Life Care Professionals, please visit