Anticipated suicidal and death ideation in response to an imagined dementia diagnosis: A qualitative study

Molly Maxfield, Allie Peckham, Dara L. James, Laura Lathrop, Amy Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are prevalent, highly impactful, and feared diagnoses. A mixed methods study using semi-structured interviews was conducted to clarify causes of dementia-related anxiety. Fifty community-dwelling adults aged 58 to 89 (M = 70.92, SD = 6.08) were recruited from a university participant registry and Memory Clinic; none had dementia diagnoses. Analyses revealed that 42% (n = 21) of participants anticipated suicidal or death ideation if diagnosed with dementia. Among participants endorsing anticipated suicidal or death ideation, responses ranged from active, specific plans, including interest in physician-assisted suicide, to more passive wishes to hasten death rather than continue to live with dementia. Within reports of both anticipated suicidal and death ideation, three subthemes emerged. Participants reported concerns about becoming a burden to others, the devaluation of life/loss of self with dementia, and the desire for (and anticipated thwarting of) personal control as factors contributing to their anticipated responses to a dementia diagnosis. Statements of anticipated suicidal and death ideation were contingent on a dementia diagnosis and may reflect errors in affective forecasting. Nevertheless, given the prevalence of dementias and older adults’ elevated rates of suicide, the intersection of these two public health issues warrants greater attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1077-1096
Number of pages20
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • alzheimer’s disease and related dementias
  • anticipated death ideation
  • anticipated suicidal ideation
  • diagnosis
  • qualitative methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


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