People with recent dementia diagnosis found to have higher suicide risk | Dementia

Researchers have found that people who were recently diagnosed with dementia, or who were diagnosed with the condition at a younger age, are among those at increased risk of suicide. The findings have prompted calls for more support for those suffering from this cognitive decline.

While previous research has explored a possible link between a diagnosis of dementia and suicide risk, the results have been inconclusive, with some suggesting an increased risk and others a lower risk.

Researchers now say that certain groups of people with dementia are at increased risk of suicide.

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Dr Charles Marshall, co-author of the research and clinical lecturer and honorary consultant in neurology at the Wolfson Institute of Population Health at Queen Mary University of London said.

Writing in JAMA Neurology, Marshall and colleagues wrote how they analyzed data from people over 15 years of age in England covering the period from January 1, 2001 to December 31, 2019.

The team identified 14,515 people who had died by suicide and had health records available. Then they matched each with up to 40 people alive from the same primary care practice but who may have had a different gender, combination of health conditions, or background.

The team found that of the full cohort of 594,674 individuals, 4,940 were diagnosed with dementia of whom 95 — or about 2% — died by suicide. This rate was similar to those without dementia.

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However, after accounting for factors such as age and gender, those diagnosed with dementia before age 65 had a 2.82 times higher risk of suicide compared to those without the condition. A higher risk of suicide was also observed in people in the first 3 months after diagnosis, and among those with a psychiatric condition.

In the first three months after being told they had dementia, those diagnosed before age 65 were about seven times more likely to commit suicide than those without dementia – although this decreased somewhat over time.

Marshall said it was unclear whether the findings were due to the same dementia that makes people feel suicidal, or factors such as people’s concern that they might become a burden on their families.

But he added: “What I tell people when they are diagnosed is that it is possible to find ways to maintain the quality of life that is acceptable to you after a diagnosis of dementia.”

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Gavin Terry, head of policy at the Alzheimer’s Association, described the findings as harrowing, and called on everyone diagnosed with dementia to have access to a dementia counselor or similar who can connect them with local support services.

“No one should have to face dementia alone. Unfortunately, three out of five people told us they did not receive enough support from local services after their diagnosis, and only 0.2% of 1 million speech therapy referrals reported a diagnosis of dementia in 2018 – so we know that People are not getting enough or “timely mental health support”, he said.

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