Carers of people with dementia contemplate suicide

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

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

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

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

An important social contribution

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

Dr O’Dwyer says the findings reflect what is happening in the community and provide an important basis for future research. “Larger studies will be required to confirm these findings and explore this issue in more depth, but what this research shows is that a significant number of carers are already at risk. They are really 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. Dr O’Dwyer is supported by the Dementia Collaborative Research Centres. Carers who are contemplating suicide should call Lifeline (13 11 14) or the Suicide Callback Service (1300 659 467). Carers who need support should contact the Carers Association in their state (1800 242 636) or the
Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centres (1800 052 222).


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