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Prevention of Elderly Suicide: Physicians' Assessment of Firearm Availability

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Publication Date: January 1998

Publisher(s): American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Author(s): M.S. Kaplan; M.E. Adamek; J.A. Rhoades


Special Collection: The Joyce Foundation


Keywords: suicide prevention ; physicians; Illinois

Type: Report

Coverage: United States


Physicians have a unique role to play in the prevention of elder suicide, yet they may not be sufficiently attentive to the prominence of firearms in the rising trend in suicide by elderly persons. This study sought to examine the extent to which physicians inquired about firearms with their depressed and suicidal elderly patients and further identified factors associated with physicians’ likelihood of asking about firearms.

This study surveyed 300 primary care physicians in Illinois most likely to be involved with elderly persons. Although they were treating depressed and suicidal older patients, a sizable proportion of the physician respondents (42%) reported that they did not ask such patients or their family members whether they had access to a firearm. Several factors distinguished physicians who assessed for firearms from those who did not. The study finds that physicians working with depressed and suicidal elderly persons need to be informed and trained about the prevalence of elder suicide and about the likelihood of elderly persons using firearms as a method of suicide.