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Choosing Death Over Dependence

16.09.04

Germany is facing a new problem in its struggle with a graying population: Afraid they will lose their independence, some aging Germans decide to commit suicide rather than move into an elderly home.

Most elderly people commit suicide mainly because they feared a loss of independence, research from the Berlin Institute for Legal Medicine showed.

The study looked at 130 suicide notes left behind by people between 65 and 95 years old from 1995 to 2003 and also found most of the elderly who took their own lives also suffered from depression, dementia or chronic pain.

Many older people are worried about the state of Germany's old people's homes, Reinhard Linder, who has examined the phenomenon of elderly suicide in his work at the Center for Suicidal Behavior Studies in Hamburg, told Deutsche Welle.

In 2002, there were 3,534 people over 65 who took their own lives, a increase of 5 percent, the German newsmagazine Focus reported.

Linder, however, warned people not to equate the condition of Germany's elderly homes with senior suicide.

"It is not possible to say there is a bad situation in old people's homes, and therefore old people kill themselves," he said.

The study revealed that elderly people often get better care at old people's homes than family members could provide.

But for many older Germans leaving home and moving into communal living arrangements is equivalent to losing their independence, a feeling many elderly have never experienced and are unprepared for, Linder said.

Politicians moving in to help

Helping the elderly realize they can manage their new dependency and continue living fulfilling lives has become a political issue in Germany.

Politicians and civic groups seized on the Berlin study as evidence of the "catastrophic care situation in Germany" and pleaded for better quality controls for the 600,000 people, mostly over 80 years old, living in care facilities.

In recent years, repeated reports of overworked staff and willful neglect of patients have alarmed Germans. Even though Lindner called these conclusions much too simple, he admitted the state of nursing homes could have an effect on the suicide rate.

"It is much more complicated, but one can say that good old people’s homes which are caring for their people in a good way are a suicide protective factor," he said.

However Germany will have to struggle to improve or even maintain the quality of its nursing homes. The Marburger Association of Doctors, an association of German hospital doctors, said it expected the number of people suffering from dementia to increase to 1.8 million people by 2010.

Ralf Lehnert (sms)

SOURCE http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,1330258,00.html

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