Suicide and Dementia

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I often hear people saying, “I’d rather kill myself than have dementia…” 

Suicide is sad and desperate, and it goes against my religious upbringing, even though I’m not very religious now.  My horror of it is visceral.  For some of the people who fear dementia, their fear is not about old age and frailty itself but what they’ve seen of poor care provision.

But indignity is not inevitable. If the care given by health and social care services is ineffective and humiliating we need to improve it and it can always be improved.  Care providers can always sharpen up, whether they are working in the private or public sector. I hate the idea that anyone would kill himself or herself just because dementia care is unkind or humiliating.  

In some circumstances I suspect that people feel they should kill themselves to save trouble for their families.  Unlike other conditions in the UK, dementia is very expensive.  People might think that they would be better dying quickly, than impoverishing the family by paying for a lingering care home placement.  Rather than fearfulness, that person might think of it as self-sacrifice.

I possibly don’t fear dementia like some people do, because I’m prepared for it.  I want to make it to 90 and by then I have a 50% chance of having it as a female.  I can imagine having my thoughts limited to a loop of familiar music, a comfy little bedroom and waiting for meals.  Of course I can’t really say now what I will feel like then.

My family are well instructed so they will be able to avoid precipitating the worst sort of disturbing behaviour that I might show.  They can afford to keep me fed and safe after I stop being economically productive; unable to babysit or cook.

Of course if I do get it, I won’t be doing cartwheels of joy.  It will be really sad; like many aspects of ageing are sad.  I know it’s not normal ageing but a disease.  However, it does not hurt as much as pancreatic cancer or cause nightmare breathing difficulties like emphysema. So if fate dishes me up this disease, I don’t think it would be the one most likely to make me suicidal.

If great publicity is given to someone who takes their own life because of Alzheimer’s does it put pressure on people who are struggling on with life with dementia?   Does it strengthen the argument for euthanasia?   Might it count as evidence that people with dementia don’t value life?  It is a short step from “They don’t value life….” to “They can’t value life….” and then to “They don’t deserve to live”. 

Publicizing a suicide related to a particular disease is like laying a landmine…you can’t be sure who is going to step on it or what the result will be.  Rage is OK.  Like anyone else, the suicide is entitled to rage.  But it’s not a thoughtful comment on how other people should respond to Alzheimer’s.  Knowing how to stay well for as long as possible is vital.

Read more here in Dementia The One Stop Guide