"Then her mom began giving away her possessions but said she was downsizing to move into assisted living."
Senior citizens kill themselves at higher rate, statistics show
© November 3, 2009
By Judy Le
When Travis Payne talked to her elderly mother that evening in May 1997, she knew something was wrong. The 83-year-old sounded very anxious and irrational, uncharacteristically hanging up the phone on her daughter.
Payne went to visit her that night, carrying a suitcase. She planned to move in to make sure her mother was doing better.
Payne knocked at 8:30. Her mom didn't answer the door, and she left because she didn't want to wake her. The next morning, she found her mom's body in the bathroom.
Payne, a psychiatric nurse, did not see it coming.
"My mother was the least likely person to ever kill herself that I've ever known," she said. "Until she died, I thought my mother was the sanest person in our family."
A forum today by the Coalition on Preventing Elder Suicide aims to help health care professionals recognize and respond to warning signs among the elderly. The forum starts at 10 a.m. at Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library. Registration is closed.
According to statistics, older people commit suicide at a much higher rate than others. The state's chief medical examiner reported that between 2003 and 2007, the suicide rate among older Virginians was 16 per 100,000, compared with 12.5 per 100,000 for other age groups.
In Virginia Beach, 44 older adults committed suicide in that time.
Jennifer Pishioneri, the Beach social worker who started the Coalition on Preventing Elder Suicide, encourages people who are concerned to contact emergency services or Southside Geropsychiatric Services. She said chronic medical conditions are a big risk factor for suicide among the elderly.
"We have older adults that have all these medical issues," she said.
"They're in pain. They're feeling like a burden. They're feeling worthless."
Social isolation, weight loss, a loss of self-worth because of a loss of independence, general sadness and fixation on death are also warning signs, Pishioneri said.
Payne's mother was depressed and anxious after they put her husband into a nursing home. But Payne took her to a psychiatrist, and after being on Prozac for a year, her mother's mood seemed to improve.
Then her mom began giving away her possessions but said she was downsizing to move into assisted living.
"I know that's a big sign," Payne said, "but it did sound logical. And I asked her, point-blank, if she was considering suicide, and she said 'absolutely not.' "
There were other contradictions, Payne said. The week before she committed suicide, her mother had a crown replaced. The day before, she picked up a new prescription, Payne said.
The night her mother committed suicide, an upset Payne called Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center; she wanted to take her mother in the next day.
"If I had it to do over again, I would have made sure she was safe that night, whether she liked it or not," Payne said. "I wouldn't care if I woke her up. I wouldn't care if it embarrassed both of us, and we looked like fools."
Judy Le, (757) 222-5113, email@example.com