New study could help predict suicidal behaviour in older adults

March 15, 2010
New study could help predict suicidal behaviour in older adults

(PhysOrg.com) -- Focussing too much on the present and not using past experience to make decisions could be linked to suicide in elderly depressed adults, researchers from Cambridge and Pittsburgh have found.

Described as " for the past", the findings help explain why only some older people with depression attempt and could allow researchers to predict which individuals are most at risk.

Suicide rates are particularly high in , but while most who attempt suicide suffer from depression, the severity of depression alone does not explain .

The study by researchers at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh, and The MRC/Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge involved 65 individuals aged 60 years and older.

Participants were assessed on a computerised learning task that assesses ability to use positive and negative feedback to change behaviour.

The test requires individuals to learn and relearn different rules on the basis of changes in feedback. The task is made difficult by including misleading feedback on a proportion of trials, where the participant is told that they are wrong after a correct response.

The results showed that patients who had attempted suicide were able to learn the initial rule on the task, but had great difficulty in re-learning ('reversing') when the rule changed. More specifically, they tended to continue to follow the old rule despite negative feedback for the wrong answers, and focused excessively on the last trial, ignoring past experience.

Patients who were depressed, but had never attempted suicide did not show the same effect and resembled healthy elderly volunteers.

Professor Barbara Sahakian of the University of Cambridge and a lead researcher on the study said: "This is an important step towards identifying a cognitive that will help us detect which elderly depressed patients are at high risk of attempting suicide.

"We hope that this research will ultimately lead to a reduction in this tragic behaviour."

The study is published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Probing how Americans think about mental life

October 20, 2017
When Stanford researchers asked people to think about the sensations and emotions of inanimate or non-human entities, they got a glimpse into how those people think about mental life.

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Dutch courage—Alcohol improves foreign language skills

October 18, 2017
A new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University and King's College London, shows that bilingual speakers' ability to speak a second ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.