The increase in the incidence of suicide in the elderly
Secretary: Cheryll Magee
Treasurer: Lynn Wysoczanski
September 24, 2013
The increase in the incidence of suicide in the elderly - Social Wellbeing Strategy
Recent reports have shown a significant rise in the suicide rate for people over the age of eighty. The NZ Society of Diversional Therapists Inc. is concerned at this trend.
The growth of the population over the age of 65+ is an established fact as the baby boomers continue to retire. However those aged 80+ will see a significant increase in numbers, not only in the retirement home-village environment, but also in their own private residence with assistance from local DHB and support agencies.
The 80+ living at home alone is clearly an expanding trend as care and medical advances take hold.
There are many influences on those who take their own life. Loneliness and a decrease in social interaction with family, friends and community contribute to a lack of Social Wellbeing which is likely to be a significant factor. The current government policy to encourage people to ‘age in place’ can contribute to this feeling of isolation. There are many services put in place to help with personal care, housework, medical needs, and meals on wheels, but very little is done to address the social needs of vulnerable elderly.
It has been said that ‘the community will look after the social needs’ as they have always done, but the community has changed. The people who could stay home to look after the elderly and the young now need to work often into their seventies to help fund their own retirement. Families often live long distances apart. The time when you were born, grew up and died all within a clearly defined and caring community is no longer the norm. Regular contact and social interaction is not happening; particularly for the older generation who are unlikely to have the skills to manage access to the internet for social media, the most common form of social interaction today.
This is the generation that was brought up from childhood to ‘not make a fuss’. It is not uncommon these days for older people to go for long periods of time without contact with others or only transient connections with those providing services to ensure they can continue to live safely in their own home. This is not enough to promote a sense of Social Wellbeing.
The NZ Society of Diversional Therapists Inc. believes the first step to ensuring the Social Wellbeing of our older people is an urgent review of the ‘Needs Assessment and Support Services for Older People’ as defined by the Health Department in conjunction with the DHBs, particularly for those living at home alone.
The document currently reads (HP 5313):
The purpose of the
needs assessment is to gather information about:
• what you can and can’t manage at home
• what help and support you already have
• what you most need to improve your quality of life
So you can be supported to stay at home and keep your independence.
They want to find
• whether you need support to stay in your home/community and the level/types of support wanted and needed – for example, equipment, household support, personal care
• what family/whānau support you have now, or could have
• what support you receive from your health professionals (doctor, physio, etc.)
• your eligibility for support (whether you/your household has a community services card)
• your cultural needs
However all indications suggest the emphasis is on physical needs such as ‘Personal cares’. A component should plainly and specifically include Social Wellbeing in the review of the individual.
As Diversional Therapists we are trained to help provide for the social needs for the most vulnerable in our society. We feel that Social Wellbeing should be included in the services offered to the elderly who remain in their own homes. It is no longer enough to review solely the physical requirement of the individual who is only going to spend more time in isolation with limited social interaction.
We believe that a range of social options should be available and offered to older people who are isolated at home particularly those aged eighty plus. There are some options available in varying degrees from drop in centers, phone call and day care services. There are currently limited places that offer daycare facilities where diversional services are available. Trained and registered Diversional Therapists provide a varied program suitable to client needs. We are not aware of any formal home diversional service.
Nevertheless it is obvious more sites and programs will be needed as the aged population expands and the needs increase. Procedures need to be developed now, to ensure that those home alone are located, assessed and offered suitable services.
The establishing of a defined Social Wellbeing Strategy for aged clients home alone is a step forward and should be incorporated with some urgency to the Health Department contracts with DHBs. The New Zealand Society of Diversional Therapists Inc. is keen to assist and is committed to providing a better caring social environment for all.
As a community we need to work together to ensure the tragic step of taken one’s life is greatly reduced. It is, for those aged 80+, a tragic end to a long life.
President NZSDT Inc