Carers of people with dementia contemplate suicide

Research from Griffith University, published this week in the International Journalof Geriatric Psychiatry, has found that one in four people who provide care for afamily member with dementia have contemplated suicide more than once in thelast year.

The world-first research also revealed that one-third of those carers said it waslikely they would attempt suicide in the future.

“We have known for a long time that caring for a person with dementia can lead todepression, anxiety, and poor physical health, but no-one had ever asked aboutsuicide,” says Dr Siobhan O’Dwyer, study leader and a Research Fellow fromGriffith’s Research Centre for Clinical and Community Practice Innovation.

“We asked a sample of 120 Australian and US carers and found that they werecontemplating suicide at more than eight times the rate of the general population.”Approximately 300,000 Australians have dementia. The majority of them live inthe community – not in nursing homes – and are cared for by spouses or adultchildren. Approximately 200,000 Australians are currently caring for a person withdementia and some of these spend more than 40 hours per week providing carethat includes feeding, dressing, showering and toileting.

An important social contribution

“Family carers do a remarkable job and make an important social contribution. It’simperative that more is done to support and improve carers’ emotional health andwellbeing,” says Debra Cottrell, CEO of Carers Queensland.

Dr O’Dwyer says the findings reflect what is happening in the community andprovide an important basis for future research. “Larger studies will be required toconfirm these findings and explore this issue in more depth, but what thisresearch shows is that a significant number of carers are already at risk. They arereally struggling and could die by suicide if they don’t get the support they need.”

The research was funded by a Project Grant from the Griffith Health Institute. DrO’Dwyer is supported by the Dementia Collaborative Research Centres.Carers who are contemplating suicide should call Lifeline (13 11 14) or theSuicide Callback Service (1300 659 467). Carers who need support shouldcontact the Carers Association in their state (1800 242 636) or the
Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centres (1800 052 222).


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