Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Dementia, Self-Harm Found to Be Linked in Older Adults

More than 60% of people with dementia who later harm themselves tend to do so within two years of their dementia diagnosis, suggests a study reported in Alzheimer’s & Dementia. The study also found that older adults who harm themselves, particularly men with no prior history of such behavior, may be at greater risk of a later dementia diagnosis than those who do not.

“Our results highlight the need for better mental health and behavioral supports soon after dementia diagnoses or self-harm in older people,” wrote Adrian R. Walker, Ph.D., of UNSW Sydney and colleagues.

Walker and colleagues relied on linked hospital data from New South Wales, Australia, to form two cohorts of people over the age of 40:

  • The dementia cohort: People without a history of self-harm who had a diagnosis of dementia between July 1, 2001, and December 31, 2014.
  • The self-harm cohort: People without a history of dementia who had a diagnosis of self-harm between January 1, 2005, and December 31, 2014.

The final datasets included 154,811 people in the dementia cohort, including 652 who had a later record of self-harm, and 28,972 people in the self-harm cohort, including 870 who had a later record of dementia. The researchers then analyzed the data to identify patient characteristics that might predict self-harm outcomes in the dementia cohort and dementia outcomes in the self-harm cohort.

The analysis revealed that “men, people around the age of 70, and people who have a complex psychiatric profile living with dementia are at the greatest risk of self-harm, and that this risk peaks within 24 months of the first hospital admission for dementia,” Walker and colleagues wrote. “Similarly, our findings from the self-harm cohort suggest that self-harm in older adults may be linked with an ensuing dementia diagnosis within 24 months.”

The authors concluded, “Poor mental health, dementia, and self-harm are substantially intertwined in older adults. Qualitative research with people with lived experience of dementia and self-harm may shed further light on the relationships among these factors.”

For related information, see The American Journal of Psychiatry article “Dementia Is More Than Memory Loss: Neuropsychiatric Symptoms of Dementia and Their Nonpharmacological and Pharmacological Management.”

(Image: iStock/Willowpix)

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