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Those with early onset dementia up to 7 times more likely to commit suicide

The study included more than 590,000 patients.

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Depressed old man hiding his face behind hands
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

People stricken by early onset dementia are up to seven times more likely to commit suicide, warns new research.

The study of more than 590,000 patients in England found an increased risk of suicide associated with dementia in patients diagnosed before the age of 65.

Researchers also found a rise in the risk of suicide among people diagnosed with dementia in the previous three months.

In the UK, around 850,000 people are currently living with dementia and it’s the leading cause of death. Around 42,000 of those have young onset dementia.

It is estimated that only around two-thirds of those living with dementia have received a diagnosis, and improving access to a timely and accurate dementia diagnosis is a major NHS priority.

However, the expansion of memory clinics for diagnosing dementia has not always been accompanied by additional resources for supporting patients in the difficult period after they are diagnosed.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London and Nottingham University undertook a study of medical records from 2001 to 2019 to determine if there was a link between dementia diagnosis and suicide risk.

The team found that just under one in 50 patients diagnosed with dementia died by suicide.

The findings, published in JAMA Neurology, showed that patients were at a higher risk of suicide after a dementia diagnosis if aged under 65, during the first three months after a diagnosis, or if they had a known psychiatric illness.

Of 4,940 patients identified from primary and secondary care with a dementia diagnosis, 95 (1.92 percent) died by suicide. Compared with patients without a dementia diagnosis, patients receiving a dementia diagnosis before the age of 65 had 2.82 times increased risk of suicide.

Patients of any age within three months of receiving a dementia diagnosis had 2.47 times increased risk of suicide when compared to those without a dementia diagnosis.

People with dementia who died by suicide had been diagnosed at a significantly younger average age (76.05) than patients with dementia who died from other causes (80.50).

The research team said that early recognition and a timely accurate diagnosis of dementia, combined with specialist support, are "hugely important" factors in reducing the distress caused by a young onset diagnosis.

Study senior author Dr. Charles Marshall, Clinical Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Neurologist at the Wolfson Institute of Population Health at Queen Mary, said: “Improving access to a dementia diagnosis is an important healthcare priority.

"However, a dementia diagnosis can be devastating, and our work shows that we also need to ensure that services have the resources to provide appropriate support after a diagnosis is given.”

Lead author Dr. Danah Alothman, of the University of Nottingham, added: “These findings suggest that memory clinics should particularly target suicide risk assessment to patients with young-onset dementia, patients in the first few months after a dementia diagnosis and patients are already known to have psychiatric problems."

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