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Front Page » April 7, 2011 » Senior Focus » The Last Way Out
Published 1,327 days ago

The Last Way Out


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

It was the generation that was going to change the world for the better.

It was positive, young, energetic and culture changing.

It brought rock n' roll into the mainstream, made the idea of having to drive a family sedan into a persons 50s passe and made long hair for men stylish.

It is the war baby/baby boomer generation and it is doing something else too.

It is setting records for the numbers of its members that are committing suicide.

While the world of health care and education seems to focus and worry about teens and 20 somethings committing the last act of desperation, many are ignoring the fact that seniors (which the baby boomers are growing into more and more each year) commit the largest amount of suicides of any age group in our society.

Why is this growth coming from post greatest generation that was so positive about life, about the possibilities of a new world in which love and happiness could spring forth?

Maybe that was was just the problem. When people can't realize their dreams, their inner yearnings, they can become depressed.

While the present senior (post 65 years old) is not largely made up of boomers yet, it is quickly growing. Right now that group comprises about 13 percent of the population, but also makes up about 20 percent of the suicides that take place. This group of people is also more efficient when it comes to being successful in killing themselves. Teenage rates say that only about one in every couple of hundred attempts are successful. For seniors it is a 25 percent rate.

This group of people now commit more suicides than any group of people ever measured for the life ending action. With statistics from 1933 on, nearly 80 years of data, the question begs itself. Why now? Why this group?

There are a number of reasons and while for each individual who commits suicide the issues may be different, some seem to be very prevalent.

The first is economic conditions. Those born post 1940 watched as their parents were successful, even in jobs where little formal education was needed. Many feel they did not succeed and that is being proved to them by eroded pensions, the stock market crash and a lack of savings. Fixed incomes are not something many of them are used to, and many thought retirement would be better than it is. Now Social Security is not even a sure thing in the future, so the doubts about a happy senior existence can work to create depression.

Second is a sense of isolation. Post 1940s couples, if they got married and had kids, find smaller families and with the divorce rate in the 50 percent range from that group, sometimes families are estranged. The mobile society has also created relatives stretched out over the country and even the world, where there is not someone to look in on them regularly or there to help when help is needed. Some have no family at all, and with many anchor groups missing from peoples lives (church, clubs, franternal organizations) the isolation leads to great loneliness. The loss of someone significant in a persons life can also lead to suicide.

Third comes health and wellness. While people are living longer than ever as a group, this advance in age also means greater medical problems. The older people get the more prone they are to have health issues. The increase in diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other problems leaves many feeling the cures are worse than the diseases. Other diseases such as Alzheimers, while not new, now show evidence of increasing greatly over just a few years ago. So many say "I don't want to live like that." When that is said in peoples 50s or early 60s does that mean if they find themselves in the grips of diseases such as that would they decide to try and end it? It is a question many experts are pondering.

Another problem may be the youth oriented culture this generation has been raised in, and currently sees perpetuated by the mass media. At one time in the history of our country old age was regarded as a time of serenity and wisdom. Older people were regarded as the building blocks on which younger people built their lives. Starting in the 1950's that situation started to change. Old was out and young was in. Older people created wars that young people had to fight. Old people practiced politics that were outmoded and they couldn't see the light of a new age. The youngsters that started thinking that way are today the seniors, and many in the more recent generations have taken up the cause to the detriment of those that now have gray hair. In another time and place older people were revered and often lived with family members. Now they gate themselves into communities of people of their own age and economic status. Not being young any more is a burr in the saddle of many seniors, unlike many previous generations who accepted what was as what was. This expectancy to still be 18 in a 70 year old body can be a problem in the emotional pocketbook.

Society, and even the medical field, has played its own role in senior suicide too. Geriatrics is one of the lowest paying fields in medicine. Basically the older people get the more time they need to spend with a doctor. However, the way things work in the medical field health care is set up so that doctors actually spend less time with older patients. In medicine, procedures are what generally generate pay; but geriatric doctors do not usually do procedures, so the compensation for those doctors is lower. So geriatrics is a hard sell for young doctors who have huge medical school loans to pay off.

Even some in Congress have realized the problem of senior suicide. In fact Senator Harry Reid of Nevada introduced a bill titled The Stop Senior Suicide Act in 2007. At the time bill was touted as seeking to amend the Social Security Act and the Public Health Service Act to help with early intervention with seniors to prevent suicides.

The bill sought to form a federal agency called the Interagency Geriatric Mental Health Plannning Council. It was to set up a Suicide Prevention Resource Center to give guidance, training and techical advice to people who received grants to work on elderly suicide prevention. And considering some of the above reasons for senior suicide above it was mean to decrease the Medicare coinsurance percentage for outpatient mental health services. This would be to keep the cost down so it could be used by low income people.

The bill, however, has not been passed. Sessions of Congress last two years, and at the end of each session all proposed bills and resolutions that haven't passed are cleared from the Congressional dockets. Reid may introduce that bill again, or it may be taken up by another representative. Presently it is not on the congressional books, however.

Education is a key to stopping suicide in the elderly; not so much with the person themselves, but with those around them. There are many myths that surround suicide, and those myths permeate the thinking of all age groups. Common ones include:

*If someone's determined to kill themselves, no one can stop them.

*Those who complete suicide do not seek help before their attempt.

*Those who kill themselves must be crazy.

*Asking someone about suicide can lead to suicide.

*Those who talk about suicide rarely actually do it.

Prevention of elder suicide comes from caring about people. Suicidal acts is generally an effort by someone to stop what they feel is unbearable pain (emotional or physical or both). The signs of possible suicide should be taken seriously and those that can prevent it must also do something...something to make that person feel that death is not the answer to their problems. Effective means include talking to the person, talking to others (particularly loved ones) about the situation, showing interest in the persons life and problems and showing very deep concern about their situation.
(Information for this article came from the Home Care Management Association, the Suicide Prevention Action Network and the Psychiatric News.)
Possible signs of suicide

*Loss of interest in things or activities that are usually found enjoyable

*Cutting back social interaction, self-care, and grooming.

*Breaking medical regimens (e.g., going off diets, prescriptions)

*Experiencing or expecting a significant personal loss (e.g., spouse)

*Feeling hopeless and/or worthless ("Who needs me?").

*Putting affairs in order, giving things away, or making changes in wills.

*Stock-piling medication or obtaining other lethal means.

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