The rate of suicide associated with residential long-term care (LTC) in adults aged 55 years and older may be significantly higher than the injury location coding of the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) suggests, according to new research.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are about 16,000 nursing homes and 31,000 assisted living facilities in the United States and they currently house about 25% of all Medicare beneficiaries. “As such, residential LTC may be a potential location for identifying individuals at high risk of self-harm and for implementing interventions to reduce suicide risk, wrote Briana Mezuk, PhD, and associates from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Dr. Mezuk and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional, epidemiologic study using a natural language–processing algorithm to analyze restricted-access data from the NVDRS between 2003 and 2015. A total of 47,759 suicides and undetermined deaths in adults aged 55 years and older from 27 states were included in the analysis (median age, 64 years; 77.6% male; 90.0% non-Hispanic white).

The algorithm identified 1,037 (2.2% of the total) suicide deaths associated with LTC, with 428 occurring in adults living in LTC, 449 occurring during the transition into or out of LTC, and 160 otherwise associated with LTC. Decedents in this group had a median age of 79 years, were 73.8% male, and were 94.3% non-Hispanic white. The number of suicide deaths varied widely from year to year, but no trend was found in the change over the study period.

Deaths while living in LTC were more likely among women, which the investigators noted is to be expected because LTC residents are disproportionately women. Death while transitioning into or out of LTC was more likely among adults who previously had expressed suicide ideation and had a physical health problem cited as a contributing circumstance. Death otherwise associated with LTC was more likely in adults who were married or in a relationship, had a depressed mood, and had a recent crisis cited as a contributing factor.

“Living in LTC or transitioning to LTC is also correlated with a host of characteristics that are established risk factors for suicide,” the investigators noted. “As such, living in LTC or LTC transitions may be a marker of underlying risk, rather than a unique risk factor per se.”

In further analysis, the investigators compared the number of suicide deaths the algorithm identified as occurring within an LTC facility (n = 428) with the injury location code SRF (supervised residential facility; n = 263) and the death location code LTC/nursing home (n = 567) within the NVDRS. Of the 263 SRF injuries, 106 were identified as occurring within a LTC facility by the algorithm. The agreement between the algorithm and the SRF coding was poor (kappa statistic, 0.30; 95% confidence interval, 0.26-0.35).

“Leaders in the field have continued to call for a shift away from a medicalized paradigm of residential LTC toward institutional practices that instead focus on fostering meaningful interactions between residents, promote engagement in care, and enhance quality of life. In addition, existing, scalable programs that support older adults living in the community offer the potential to promote quality of life for older adults who may be considering transitioning into or out of residential LTC,” the investigators concluded. “These findings emphasize the importance of such efforts for the mental health of older adults.”

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. The investigators reported no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Mezuk B et al. JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Jun 14. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.5627.