With 3 out of 4 Americans insisting they would prefer to age in place at home, senior care institutions already face stiff headwinds. But an investigation by two media organizations paints a glum picture of a little discussed aspect of elder life: the “lethal planning” some older residents make in nursing homes, assisted living centers, and adult care facilities — to end their own lives.
The exact suicide toll among the 2.2 million elderly Americans who live in long-term care settings is poorly tracked and difficult to quantify, reported the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News (KHN) service and PBS NewsHour (see the broadcast report by clicking here). But the two news organizations found:
[An] analysis of new data from the University of Michigan suggests that hundreds of suicides by older adults each year — nearly one per day — are related to long-term care. Thousands more people may be at risk in those settings, where up to a third of residents report suicidal thoughts, research shows. Each suicide results from a unique blend of factors, of course. But the fact that frail older Americans are managing to kill themselves in what are supposed to be safe, supervised havens raises questions about whether these facilities pay enough attention to risk factors like mental health, physical decline and disconnectedness — and events such as losing a spouse or leaving one’s home. More controversial is whether older adults in those settings should be able to take their lives through what some fiercely defend as ‘rational suicide.’