Western attitudes towards ageing, physical and social impediments are leading causes of suicide in older adults, according to research.
While global rates of suicide in older people have declined from 1998-2017, researchers from Griffith University found that these factors, along with the impacts of the pandemic, were contributing to unnecessary deaths.
The team considered current issues facing the older population, highlighted unreported cases of 'silent suicide' and overly simplistic approaches to suicide prevention in the new study.
Lead researcher Diego De Leo, an expert in suicide research and prevention, said the research proposed strategies for a multifaceted approach to suicide prevention.
"While suicide in old age has declined, this was probably not due to anti-suicide programs but to improved access to health assistance and better quality of life," Professor De Leo said.
"Nevertheless, suicide among older adults still has high rates.
"Frailty, physical illness, loss of autonomy and dependency, together with loss of a partner and friends, are important risk factors for suicide in old age.
"Loneliness is destined to become a social epidemic and a major contributor to suicide ideation, and the pandemic has exacerbated both social isolation and loneliness."
Professor De Leo said ageism was another barrier to the proper care of older adults and more needed to be done to fight it.
He said 'silent suicides' included cases in which people voluntarily stopped eating and drinking, which are not generally registered as suicide.
Studies specifically addressing the impact of COVID-19 on suicide rates of older adults are not yet available. But the research found it was conceivable that the pandemic had a negative impact on suicide in old age.
The 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Hong Kong was associated with an increase of around 30 per cent in the number of suicides in old age.
"The fight against stigma and the ageist way of thinking, which is pervasive in society, including among health professionals, must be pursued with great vigour," Professor De Leo said.
"Additionally, successful aging requires promoting a culture of resilience and adaptation to the different stages of life, as well as to the changes that come with advancing age.
"Promoting human rights of older people is an essential step in the path leading to this success."
The research has been published in Nature Aging.