Self-harm in people with dementia – using big data to improve outcomes and inform strategies to prevent self-harm and suicide
Dementia and self-harm represent substantial public health burdens in the older population. Dementia has been identified as a risk factor for self-harm behaviour, particularly in older males. Research is needed to understand factors associated with self-harm in people with dementia to develop appropriate suicide and self-harm prevention programs. As people age, physical and mental health conditions along with social circumstances contribute to self-harm. Although contact with health services in the months before self-harm is common, little is known about these healthcare pathways that might inform prevention strategies. The growing ageing population, along with the high occurrence of dementia and self-harm in older adults, has substantial implications for the planning and equipping of health services to meet the needs of affected individuals.
Our study will use linked health data from NSW to understand the health problems and social circumstances of people with dementia who self-harmed and how they have accessed health services before and after self-harm. Understanding the specific health problems and treatment gaps is a critical first step to developing effective preventive measures. This will inform strategies to allow health services to better meet the needs of people with dementia who self-harmed.
Dr Reppermund is a psychologist and Scientia Senior Research Fellow in the field of mental health, ageing, and cognitive disorders at the School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales in Sydney.