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In depressed persons, thoughts of death and suicide are assumed to represent different degrees of a construct: suicidality. However, this can be questioned in older persons facing physical and social losses. Thoughts of death in depressed older persons are hardly examined in the absence of suicidal ideation. Furthermore, most depression instruments do not discriminate suicidal ideation from thoughts of death only. We examined whether determinants of thoughts of death differ from determinants of suicidal ideation in late life depression.
Past month's thoughts of death and suicidal ideation were assessed with the Composite International Diagnostic Interview in 378 depressed older persons (>60 years of age). Multinomial logistic regression analyses adjusted for age and depression severity were used to identify socio-demographic, lifestyle, clinical and somatic determinants of past month's thoughts of death, and suicidal ideation.
Compared with patients without thoughts of death or suicide (n = 267), patients reporting thoughts of death but no suicidal ideation (n = 74) were older (OR (95% confidence interval) = 1.04 (1.00–1.08)) and more severely depressed (OR = 1.06 (1.04–1.08)), whereas patients with suicidal ideation (n = 37) were also more severely depressed (OR = 1.09 (1.06–1.13)), but not older. This latter group was further characterized by more psychiatric comorbidity (dysthymia OR = 2.28 (1.08–4.85)), panic disorder (OR = 2.27 (1.00–518)), at-risk alcohol use (OR = 4.10 (1.42–11.90)), lifetime suicide attempts (OR = 3.37 (1.46–7.75)), loneliness (OR = 1.24 (1.07–1.43)), and recent life events (OR = 3.14 (1.48–6.67)).
In depressed older persons thoughts of death and suicide differ in relevant demographic, social, and clinical characteristics, suggesting that the risks and consequences of the two conditions differ.
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