A murder suicide at a Worthington, Minnesota nursing home is raising questions about senior mental health care.
Friday night, an 87-year-old Worthington man brought a handgun into a local nursing home, shooting his 86-year-old wife in the head before turning the gun on himself.
The nursing home administrator at Crossroads Care Center in Worthington said the man had just checked his wife into the nursing home two weeks earlier, and had stopped to visit her every day.
While it’s not often talked about in obituaries or in mainstream media, suicide is actually most common in this age group.
“The demographic that's at the greatest risk of suicide is white men above the age of 85,” said Dr. Matthew Stanley, a physiatrist at Avera Behavioral Health. “I just don't think that we have the same level of awareness or suspicion that older folks are committing suicide at home and that’s the cause death—we assume its something else.”
The risk of suicide is far greater as people experience major life changes like the loss of a spouse or the transition into a 24-hour care facility.
“When somebody has a change in their life—having to move the nursing home for additional care, starting hospice services because of their health—we will often see signs of depression, and loss—because it is a big loss,” said Kim Cunningham, a social work with Compassionate Care Hospice.
For many older couple, these transitions often mean living on their own for the first time in decades.
“This is similar to going through a grieving process. If your loved one is now in a nursing home, you're essentially living alone, even though you may go and visit them every day. It’s much like becoming a widower or a widow. It’s a change of life you also realize is not going back to the way it was,” said Dr. Stanley.
“With hospice people we talk about death all the time, that's part of what we do, but this is completely different when we talk about wanting to end your life before its time,” said Cunningham.
There are some warning signs to look for that you loved one may be at risk of suicide: things like isolation, giving away possessions, changes in behavior, a sense of hopelessness, substance use and increased impulsivity.
But watching for these signs may not be enough.
“Sometimes people won't show you any signs at all and it’s a surprise,” said Cunningham.
That’s why these healthcare professionals say it’s most important to ask questions and continue that open, honest conversation with your loved ones.
“Family and social support is one of the most protective factors we can offer,” said Dr. Stanley.
“Just being present, just being there and knowing that you are there to support them and that they don't have to be alone all the time and just general love, you love them, so you want to help them,” said Cunningham.
The Crossroads Care Center in Worthington, MN is providing its residents and care providers professional counseling services as the community continues to mourn this weekend’s loss.
Friday, August 1 2014 10:19 PM EDT2014-08-02 02:19:37 GMT
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