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Alarming number of carers contemplate suicide

March 6, 2013

An alarming one quarter of people caring for a family member with dementia have contemplated committing suicide, an Australian study shows.

Researchers from Griffith University found among 120 carers recruited for a pilot study from online carer discussion boards in Australia and the US, 26% had thought about suicide more than once in the previous 12 months.

Of those, half had never told anyone they were contemplating committing suicide, and a third were classified as likely to attempt suicide in the future.

“It is clear that some family carers are already contemplating suicide and, as such, health professionals and community care providers must work to identify and support these carers now,” the authors said.

“In fact, given that the majority of family carers of people with dementia are aged over 55 and that up to 75% of people over 50 who die by suicide have never made a previous attempt, this should be considered a matter of some urgency.”

The study showed the carers with suicidal ideation reported more behavioural and psychological symptoms in the person with dementia, and stronger reactions to those symptoms, than carers who were not suicidal.

They also had lower levels of optimism, were less satisfied with the social support they were receiving and had higher levels of burden, anxiety, depression and dysfunctional coping strategies than those who had not contemplated committing suicide.

However, the researchers’ modelling suggested depression was the only variable significantly correlated with carers contemplating suicide.

In Australia, the majority of community-dwelling people with dementia are cared for by a family member.

Twenty-five per cent of these carers provide 40 hours of care or more a week and one-third of that group continue caring at that level for five years or more, according to the authors.

The study findings suggested “an alarming number” of carers contemplate suicide and further research was needed, they said.

Int J Geriatr Psych 2013; online March 4

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