Elder Suicide: How We Can Try To Prevent It

  • It was obviously a murder-suicide. That much is clear. The man, in his eighties, sent his family an e-mail saying there would be "no more pain and suffering." He stabbed his Alzheimer's afflicted wife once in the heart, then stabbed himself multiple times. This was a loving couple that didn't want to be separated. They didn't want to go to a nursing home and they knew the time was near. They'd rather die.


    Just last September, in another small town not far away, an 86-year-old man shot his wife, called the police and then shot himself to death. The reasons are pretty much the same.


    I live in small metro area. We've got an abundance of colleges, universities, theater, arts, and research parks, plus some industry. We also have high quality adult day care, assisted living and nursing homes. The small towns dotting the surrounding plains are supported by farms, many of them very large operations. Some of the towns are thriving, others struggle. But even in these smaller areas, there are some quality nursing facilities.

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    If killing a beloved spouse, your companion of decades, and then killing ones self is the choice of some elders in this sparsely populated area - where neighbor knows neighbor and churches are the heartbeat of town - how many elderly couples in big cities are deciding to end their lives in this manner? How often is it brushed aside because they were "old?" They weren't "all there?" Could these people have lived a much more satisfying life together in assisted living, with friends and family to look in on them? Did they really choose this gruesome ending because that was their wish?


    I don't think so. I think they felt trapped. They may or may not have known that there were good facilities close by that could give them a much better quality of life than they'd had. Often people of that generation don't want to "bother anyone" with their troubles. They believe in handling everything on their own. And they see no way to handle what life has given them but death at their own hands.


    How can we better educate these elders and their families so they know that going to a nursing home isn't a situation "worse than death." How can we get through to them that they don't have to handle this alone?


    Or if, God forbid, they live in an area where nursing homes are so bad that living in one is worse than killing your spouse and then yourself, what can be done to fix the facilities? It's hard for me to let go of the sadness inherent in these situations, and the devastation the families of these elders - indeed the whole community that embraced them when they were out and about - must feel. The sense of failure.


    What's the answer here? Better education? Better services? More attention from government and faith based communities? Likely, it's all of the above. Maybe some of these tragic endings couldn't be stopped. But we have to try. These people's lives deserve a better final chapter.


    To learn more about Carol, please go to http://www.mindingourelders.com/ or http://www.mindingoureldersblogs.com/.

Published On: December 12, 2007