Don’t Forget the Risk of Suicide after Dementia Diagnosis

Is there a higher risk of suicide after a diagnosis of dementia? And can it be prevented?

In a recent study from the UK, young age at diagnosis (<65), a recent diagnosis (less than 3 months) and psychiatric comorbidities were each independent risk factors. In that group, the risk was almost 7 times higher than in patients without dementia.

Young age since diagnosis is an important marker. The fear of being a burden is greater in younger patients who are more likely to be in their productive years and have family caring responsibilities.

A recent diagnosis reflects the stage of the disorder. Patients are more likely to be conscious of their deficits as well as have the functional and cognitive capabilities to plan and execute suicide. Further, the process of acceptance and adjustment takes time.

Screening and management of psychiatric illnesses may mitigate the increased suicide risk. Even though an association was not confirmed in the study, use of pharmacological treatments for dementia should be considered.

In short, suicide risk assessment and prevention measures should be focused on the period immediately after diagnosis and in those with young-onset dementia.

Adapted from an article by Alothman et al in JAMA Neurology October 3, 2022.

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