BACKGROUND: Suicide rates in older people in England and Wales have declined in recent years. The challenge, therefore, is to sustain this downward trend. Better understanding of the current methods of suicide used by older people may inform strategies to sustain this decline. METHODS: A study to ascertain the up to date status of methods of suicides used by older people in England and Wales was undertaken using the latest available national mortality data (suicides and open verdicts) from the Office of National Statistics for the years 2001 to 2007. Suicide in this study is measured by and includes the combination of deaths due to suicides (ICD-10 codes X60-X84) and open verdicts (ICD-10 codes Y10-Y34). The chi square test (corrected for continuity) was used to examine the differences in the methods of suicide between: (i) those under the age of 65 years and those aged 65 years and over in both sexes; (ii) males and females aged 65 years and over. RESULTS: Hanging, strangulation and suffocation (males, 40.2%; females 20.1%), drowning and submersion (males, 8.2%; females 11.4%), and other and unspecified drugs, medicaments and biological substances (males, 8%; females, 20.4%) were the most common methods of suicide in older people. There were significant differences in the methods of suicide used by older men and women, and by older and younger people in both sexes. Suicide by unspecified means was common in both older men and women and higher in older women than older men. Unfortunately, data on the potential method of suicide is not available for these “unspecified means. CONCLUSIONS: The clear differences in the methods of suicide between older and younger people and between older men and women suggest a need to develop different strategies to reduce access to these methods of suicide for different age and sex groups. Also, potentially preventable methods of suicide may be hidden behind suicide by unspecified means. Therefore, there is a need to accurately ascertain and document methods of suicide, as they may offer opportunities for prevention.
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