Pathways to Late-Life Suicidal Behavior: Cluster Analysis and Predictive Validation of Suicidal Behavior in a Sample of Older Adults With Major Depression

Objective: Clinical heterogeneity is a key challenge to understanding suicidal risk, as different pathways to suicidal behavior are likely to exist. We aimed to identify such pathways by uncovering latent classes of late-life depression cases and relating them to prior and future suicidal behavior.

Methods: Data were collected from June 2010 to September 2015. In this longitudinal study we examined distinct associations of clinical and cognitive/decision-making factors with suicidal behavior in 194 older (50+ years) nondemented, depressed patients; 57 nonpsychiatric healthy controls provided benchmark data. The DSM-IV was used to establish diagnostic criteria. We identified multivariate patterns of risk factors, defining clusters based on personality traits, perceived social support, cognitive performance, and decision-making in an analysis blinded to participants’ history of suicidal behavior. We validated these clusters using past and prospective suicidal ideation and behavior.

Results: Of 5 clusters identified, 3 were associated with high risk for suicidal behavior: (1) cognitive deficits, dysfunctional personality, low social support, high willingness to delay future rewards, and overrepresentation of high-lethality attempters; (2) high-personality pathology (ie, low self-esteem), minimal or no cognitive deficits, and overrepresentation of low-lethality attempters and ideators; (3) cognitive deficits, inability to delay future rewards, and similar distribution of high- and low-lethality attempters. There were significant between-cluster differences in number (P < .001) and lethality (P = .002) of past suicide attempts and in the likelihood of future suicide attempts (P = .010, 30 attempts by 22 patients, 2 fatal) and emergency psychiatric hospitalizations to prevent suicide (P = .005, 31 participants).

Conclusions: Three pathways to suicidal behavior in older patients were found, marked by (1) very high levels of cognitive and dispositional risk factors suggesting a dementia prodrome, (2) dysfunctional personality traits, and (3) impulsive decision-making and cognitive deficits.

J Clin Psychiatry 2018;79(2):17m11611

https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.17m11611