Older adults with Parkinson’s disease face twice the risk for suicide

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Older adults with Parkinson's disease are twice as likely to die by suicide than the general population, according to a new study. Photo by zeevveez/Flickr

Older adults with Parkinson’s disease are twice as likely to die by suicide than those without the disease, according to an analysis published Wednesday by JAMA Psychiatry.

Among nearly 36,000 people with the neuromuscular condition included in the study, 10% of those who died by suicide also had been diagnosed with depression, the data showed.

“The suicide risk elevation in [Parkinson’s disease] was only partially explained by comorbidity with depression and other mental disorders,” wrote the authors, from Taipei City Hospital in Taiwan.

“Parkinson’s disease in itself markedly escalated the risk of suicide,” they said.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that leads to muscle shaking and stiffness. Symptoms can include difficulty with walking, balance and coordination, as well as cognitive issues and problems talking, according to the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

Roughly 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the United States each year, the Parkinson’s Foundation estimates.

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Anxiety and depression are common in people with the disease, due to its debilitating symptoms, research also suggests.

For this study, the Taiwan-based researchers tracked 35,891 older adults in the country who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease over a period of 11 years and compared suicide rates within this population to those for 143,557 older adults without the disease.

A total of 151 people with Parkinson’s died by suicide, compared with 300 people in the non-Parkinson’s group, the researchers said.

People with Parkinson’s who died by suicide in the study group were also younger, with an average age of 74, compared with an average age of 76 in participants without the disease who died by suicide.

Of the 151 people with Parkinson’s who died by suicide, 15, or about 10%, had been diagnosed with depression, compared with 5% in the non-Parkinson’s group, the data showed.

“Over and above identifying and treating mental disorders in Parkinson’s disease, integrating mental healthcare into primary care, geriatric healthcare and … specialty care might be helpful,” the researchers wrote.

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“Furthermore, socio-environmental interventions, such as enhancing family and community connectedness and home safety assessment to prevent suicide … are all potential intervention measures,” they said.


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