Friday, January 6, 2012

When Older Adults, Seniors Want to Die (Hospice Nursing Home Story, Research)

Some people think being around dying patients must always be sad because everybody fears death, and no one really wants to die. As a hospice volunteer, I have had several patients who could prove them wrong. These nursing home residents actually stated they looked forward to death and gave reasons that had nothing to do with depression. This is what hospice patient Rose said to me about her upcoming death:

“How old did you tell me I was?” Rose asked.

“You’re ninety-nine, and you’ll be a hundred years old on your next birthday.”

“A hundred years old is too old. I don’t think I want to be that old.”

“There are three other ladies in this nursing home who are older than that. One is a hundred three. We talked to her last week during your wheelchair ride.”

“How much longer will it be before I make a hundred? I don’t know if I want to wait too much longer.”

“It’s only one more month. I remember you said you had spiritual talks with your minister. If you decide to wait, I’ll get you a big balloon that looks like a birthday cake.”

“I guess I could wait. Yes, I think I will wait. That way I can celebrate my hundredth birthday. When I do get to heaven, I can tell everybody I lived to be one hundred.”

And that’s exactly what she did.

(Excerpt from Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes)

But wanting to die is not always that simple. According to this VU University Medical Center research study in Amsterdam about older adults’ death thoughts and wishes, 81.3% never had them. Among those who did, 67% had depressive symptoms, and 20% suffered from a depressive disorder. Wanting to die was associated with depressive symptoms, a depressive disorder, lower perceived mastery, financial problems, loneliness, small network, involuntary urine loss, being divorced, and having a speech impediment.

What can we learn from this research? Certain situations increase the likelihood that an older person wants to die. Although the desire to die may not be related to depressive symptoms, depression should be cause for investigation about death wishes and should be treated.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback at many booksellers and in e-book form at Amazon and Barnes and Noble booksellers.

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