Diagnosis of Early Onset Dementia Significantly Increases Suicide Risk, Study Finds

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that there are between 220,000 and 640,000 Americans living with early onset dementia. With Alzheimer’s specifically, 5 to 6% of patients develop symptoms before the age of 65. A new study finds that receiving such a serious diagnosis at an early age puts people at a substantially increased risk of suicide.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London and the University of Nottingham examined data from nearly 600,000 people in England to determine if there was a link between a dementia diagnosis and suicide risk. Their findings, published in the journal JAMA Neurology, found a nearly seven-fold increase in suicide risk for those diagnosed before the age of 65, within the first three months after diagnosis, compared with their peers. The team says this shows the importance of supportive care for these patients.


Dr. Charles Marshall, senior author and honorary consultant neurologist at the Wolfson Institute of Population Health at Queen Mary, says, “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.”

To conduct their study, the team examined the medical records of 594,674 people from 2001 to 2019. Of these, 14,515 died by suicide, 95 of whom had a confirmed dementia diagnosis. The team found that nearly 2% of those who had been diagnosed with dementia had died by suicide. The risk was higher for those under the age of 65, who had a 6.69 times higher risk within the first three months after diagnosis than their cognitively healthy peers. Suicide was also more likely for those who had a known psychiatric illness.


The team says these findings help line out who may need extra care from doctors following such a devastating diagnosis.

Dr. Danah Alothman, lead author and researcher at the University of Nottingham, explains, “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 dementia diagnosis and patients already known to have psychiatric problems.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, depression is common for those living with dementia, especially in the early and middle stages of the disease. Treatment may include medicine, counseling, and/or a reconnection to people and activities that bring the patient joy.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

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