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Suicide Risk May Be Higher in Senior Facilities
Date:5/18/2010

earms. Specific risk factors for older people living in a residential home include being widowed or divorced, having a pessimistic outlook, sleeping more than nine hours a day and drinking more than three alcoholic beverages a day.

"Depression is the most important risk factor," said Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of the division of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "But, the vast majority of people who are depressed don't try to take their lives, and we're not so good at predicting who really has a heightened risk of suicide."

The report found that depression rates in residential facilities for seniors were between 22 and 40 percent at admission.

So, what can you do to look out for your loved one?

"As you visit, see if they're engaged in activities and making friends. Are they going to church? Stopping going to church is a red flag. Make sure the person understands that they still have an important role in the family, that they're still needed," advised Podgorski.

As the transition from home to residential facility is occurring, Kennedy said to watch how your loved one is adjusting to the change. "If the stress of preparing for the move is starting to disorient the person, that's a clear indicator that they're going to need extra help."

He added that depression doesn't always present itself as a sad mood; sometimes people who are depressed appear angry and irritable.

Podgorski said that the facilities themselves have to be aware that people are at risk, especially their newest residents. "Facilities have to watch and be vigilant about seeing how people adjust. Retirement communities could probably do a better job of doing routine depression screening on admission," she said.

It's also important to make sure that residents are connected to their medical health providers and that any pain they have is controlled.

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