Wishes to Die in Older People. A Quantitative Study of Prevalence and Associated Factors.

ABSTRACT.Background: Death thoughts and wishes occur frequently among older people. In different European countries estimates of 10%–20% have been found. Aims: To determine the prevalence and associated factors of death thoughts and wishes among older people in The Netherlands. Methods: In The Netherlands 1794 people (58–98 years) were interviewed in 2005/2006 (Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam). Results: 81.3% reported never having death thoughts/wishes; 15.3% reported having had such thoughts/wishes; 3.4% reported currently having a wish to die and/or a weakened wish to continue living. Of those with a current wish to die, 67% had depressive symptoms (vs. 32% of people with death thoughts/wishes ever and 9% of people who never had had death thoughts/wishes), and 20% suffered from a depressive disorder (vs. 5% if death thoughts/wishes ever; 0.3% if never death thoughts/wishes). In a multivariate analysis, a current wish to die was associated with having depressive symptoms, a depressive disorder, lower perceived mastery, financial problems, loneliness, small network, involuntary urine loss, being divorced, and having a speech impediment. Conclusions: Practical implications for health-care professionals are that they should be aware that in certain situations older people are more likely to develop a wish to die, and that a wish to die does not necessarily mean that someone has a depressive disorder. Nevertheless, it should serve as a trigger to investigate and to treat depression if present.