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Suicides and Mercy Killings - the Alzheimer's Connection





(A Suicide by Firearms)



The American foundation for Suicide Prevention  Outlines the Problem (2018)


1.  Suicide is the 10th Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

2.  Each Year, 44,965 Americans Die of Suicide.

3.  For every Suicide, there are 25 Attempted Suicides.

4.  Suicides Cost the US 64 Billion Annually.

5.  On Average there are 123 Suicides Per Day.

6.  Men Die 3.5 times more often then Women from Suicide.

7,  in the year 2016, 3,801 Suicides were by those age 75 or Older..


One does not normally associate Homicides or Suicides with Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's is however, a very close and frequent connection to one or the other of these sad and  violent events.


Four (4) Basic Types or Patterns in Alzheimer's

a.  The Alzheimer's victim takes his or her own life as a Suicide.

b.  The spouse of an Alzheimer's victim is overcome by grief takes his or her own life in Suicide.

c.  The spouse of an Alzheimer's victim murders the victim in a so called "Mercy Killing".

d.  The spouse of an Alzheimer's victim murders/mercy kills  the victim and then commits suicide.

e.   Every Day there will be between 10 and 11 (almost 1 every 2 Hours)Seniors who commit Suicide in the

      US. (Considering the total population of seniors in this age group, this is a very significant figure.)



"Suicide: America's Hidden  Epidemic" - "This Week" Magazine - June 22, 2018"


Research done with people who survived their suicide attempts found some very startling facts:

a.  In 70 Percent of the cases, less than 1 hour passed between the time of th eidea to kill onslf and the atual attempt.

b.  In 25 Percent of the cases, the time is less than 5 Minutes.

c.  Most of the survivors said they deeply regretted their attempt and 90 percent were alive 25 years later.


Stan's Note: No wonder the parents or loved ones of the family member who committed suicide, were stunned and saw no prior signs to indicate that a suicide was about to take place...this information supplies the missing answer to the usual crushing and sad question following the event.

This data has nothing to do with the cases of the very elderly (85+) who commit suicide because they are both lonely and sick...their attempts are almost always successful.

Why do they call Suicides an "Epidemic" at 45,000 (the annual total estimate given) when Smoking related deaths by the NIH is estimated 500,000 a year and are not called epidemics, nor are the estimated 500,000 yearly Alzheimer's deaths called epidemics? Auto deaths in 2016 were also 37,461.


Suicides and Alzheimer's

Suicides of the elderly regardless of cause get very little public notice.  The reasons for the public apathy is said to be a part of the way that the elderly are viewed. The elderly are looked at as an "expendable" part of the population. Minnesota state epidemiologist Jon Roesler is quoted as saying: "There's an old maxim, "A young man may die. An old man must die."

When there is a murder associated with the elderly suicide, then it becomes a news story.

To their credit, The Minneapolis Star Tribune did a front page story on Suicides of the elderly in their March 28th (2010) edition. The story by Jim Spencer was headlined as: "A Dark Trend That's Difficult to Combat"  and "Relatives are Left Confused, Isolated and Full of Grief." This story had particular interest to me not only because it related to the elderly, but because it gave the case histories of two elderly Minnesota Alzheimer's victims among the five cases discussed. While this number may not be statistically relevant or significant, it was a 40% ratio and does suggest a high prevalence of suicide among the Alzheimer's victims.

A brief review of one of the cases that has sufficient details, will perhaps serve to provide some insight into the cause of such sad events.

Don Langland, Age 79, retired Master Craftsman of Pequot Lakes, MN. "When Langland bade his wife of 56 years goodbye as she headed off to Bible study one night last spring, no one had a clue what he intended to do. Langland, took his glasses off eyes that no longer saw well enough to make perfect cuts. He took his wedding ring off a hand that was losing the coordination required to frame buildings. He retrieved a shotgun from a locked safety vault he had built, shuffled into his back yard on the crutch he needed to support an increasingly unsteady body, duct taped his weapon to his crutch so his aim would be true and shot himself."

Langland was described as having seen how Alzheimer's/dementia had devastated his mother before him. His wife Shirley described him: "he continued to have embarrassing bouts of confusion that made life unbearable for a high school dropout who once carried the equivalent of blueprints in his head. Not being able to work or plan in his mind, Don was finding it more convenient to sit in a chair with the TV going full blast...for a real active man I felt sorry for him, because that was not his life."

Stan's Notes: There is reference to Doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs trying three separate anti-depressants on Langland. This is in spite of there being NO anti-depressants approved by the FDA for use on Alzheimer's or dementia patients. Don, apparently without hope, decided he would not allow his family to go through what he had gone through with his mother. It appears that he was still in the early to the early-middle stages of his disease in order that he was able to plan his suicide. The early stages appear to present the highest risk.


The Netherlands has legal assisted suicide. It is reported that 22% of those diagnosed with Alzheimer's elect assisted suicide.


Editorial Notes: The spouse of an Alzheimer's victim will sometimes be so overcome with grief that they will elect to commit suicide rather then watch the long painful process of seeing their spouse gradually fade away and die. I recall that at the nursing home (Wellstead) where June was first a resident, one of the lady residents was said to have no living spouse as her husband had elected suicide after hearing of his wife's Alzheimer's diagnosis. They were said to have had a very active life together. I have always viewed such a decision as a very selfish act. If there was ever a time that the spouse who is an Alzheimer's victim, needs the care and comfort of their marriage partner, it is at such a time. It should make no difference that the Alzheimer's spouse will eventually not recognize their marriage partner. While I deplore such a decision, I also recognize that in many of such cases, the spouse electing the suicide as a way out is probably very sick with clinical depression.

"Older People With Dementia at High Suicide Risk." - .."High Risk of Suicide in Elderly with Alzheimer's Disease. Article by Kristie Leong in General Medicine, (25 January 2010) "receiving the diagnosis of dementia - especially Alzheimer's dementia - can be devastating to both patient and family. So poorly do older people with dementia respond to the news that they have a chronic brain disease that some attempt suicide. According to a new study published in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia, older people with dementia are at a significantly higher risk of suicide - particularly after first receiving the diagnosis."

A study in Israel by Yoram Barak and Dov Aizenberg, 2002, "Suicide Amongst Alzheimer's Disease Patients": A 10 Year Survey." Between 1991 and 2000 there were 1,551 admissions to our center who were 65 years or older. Of these, 341 were diagnosed as suffering from dementia and 215 as suffering from Alzheimer's disease (AD). Sixteen AD patients (7.4% of all AD patients) were admitted immediately following a suicide attempt. ...Physicians should be aware that suicide attempts are not rare in elderly AD patients. Higher daily functioning and previous suicide attempts are associated with increased suicidal risk."


It was just one year earlier on March 26th, 2009 that the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on a combination Suicide-Homicide case in Hudson, WI under the headline "I'M Weary, Dad Said Before Murder-Suicide" with a sub headline of "I'm Weary, Father Said Before He, Wife Died." Story by Anthony Lonetree. On March 27th a follow up article appeared with headlines: "When Weary Caregivers Give Up Hope" with a sub headline of: "Watch For Signs, Counselors Say." That article and story was by Warren Wolfe.


A brief review of this case indicates: Claire Erickson 83 and Betty Lou Erickson 81of Hudson, WI. They had been married from 60 years. Claire was the co-founder of the Erickson Gas Station chain, later to become the Freedom Valu Centers. They wintered every year in their Naples Florida home. They had just celebrated their 60th anniversary at their Florida home with family and friends only a week before returning to Hudson. On  a Sunday their son David drove them by car back to their home in Hudson, arriving on Monday evening. The son reported everything "was fine, absolutely fine" when he dropped his parents off Monday night at their Crest View Drive home. His father had hoped to be home in time to watch the 9 o'clock news. The next morning Tuesday, a daughter dropped by at 10:30  AM to check on them as they did not answer the phone. They were found in bed and appeared at first to be sleeping. A second look determined something was amiss. It was later determined by the Hudson Police  that they were shot to death in an apparent homicide-suicide. They were members of the Bethel Lutheran Church in Hudson where Betty Lou had been a very active member. "In recent years Betty Lou, battled Alzheimer's disease and had to settle for being a churchgoer." The son David described his parents as a "most loving couple". The father had recently  said "I'm tired, I'm weary." A local pastor described Clair as: "very care-giving, very protective of her." The son expressed the opinion that his father did it "out of love" for his three children , worried that someday they would be left to care for their mother.

Stan's Notes: it is apparent that Betty' Lou's Alzheimer's was still in the early stages as her long term memory was still intact..."Betty Lou Erickson recalled who was there beside them when they married and she remembered the honeymoon, too, a trip down Route 66 "all the way past the Grand Canyon."

David Erickson said" David also referred to the father caring for the mother the past three years.

The average time from diagnosis to termination is said to be eight (8) years. President Reagan lived for 10 years while my wife June survived just a few days short of 12 years. I have a very close friend, (Don Fox) whose wife went 15 years. The longest term I am aware of was that of Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister in the UK. She went for 16 years 

I would assume that this is another case of depression sickness causing this result. One would not expect this to happen in early stages of the partner's disease. I recall in my own case, for the first 7 years that June had Alzheimer's, most of her symptoms related to short term memory loss and resulting confusion. This was relatively easy for me to accommodate and compensate. We used these early years (6 years) to the best advantage and did much traveling and lived our lives to the fullest. We traveled to visit our English friends south of London for the last time and made at least 170 trips around the United States and Europe and Canada.

Oh to be sure, there were many moments of sadness. For me I would have short spells of grief as I saw the effects of Alzheimer's on June's life. There were times that June would detect my sadness and grief and minister to me by telling me "don't worry about me Stan, I will be alright". I am sure that we both knew otherwise. It was in years 7 and 8 as she entered the middle stages and beyond, that her care became more difficult. Alzheimer's started taking over more and more of June's life with full blown dementia symptoms taking over. It reached the point early in year eight (8), where I needed the help and assistance of a facility dedicated to such care.


June and Stan

I have never had such death thoughts about June and I am sure that the half dozen plus husbands that I have come to know well through the Alzheimer's connections, have never had such death thoughts either. 

June 1990

There have been one or two of exceptions.  I recall seeing a husband leaving an Alzheimer's nursing home one evening in a state of anger. I asked him what was wrong. He told me that his wife made him so angry he could "strangle her" I tried to assure him that this was not his wife that caused his anger but rather it was the disease that was causing her to act in the manner that made  him angry. He did not seem to want to  listen and just continued on his way. I remember thinking - "There goes a husband who is not caring for his wife out of love but rather  out of a sense of duty or obligation". It was only a day or two later that I observed the same husband trying to feed his wife in the dining room of the nursing home. He became so frustrated that he ended up twice slapping her hands. The nearby staff members immediately intervened and his future role with his wife's care became restricted. Again, this case is in the small minority of my experiences with husbands and wives and Alzheimer's.

My very close friend, Dr. Don Fox,  who is a retired medical doctor, a surgeon, and a  former missionary to Africa, was also a care giver to his Alzheimer's wife. He has been a faithful, dedicated, loving and caring husband who was deeply involved in his wife's Alzheimer's care. This friend and his wife have been long time members of the same church that June and I are members. His wife's first Alzheimer's symptoms appeared in 1996. It was eight years later that her dementia symptoms required that she be placed in a nursing home for care. It was in the year 2011 (15th Year) that his wife finally lost the battle and passed on.- in the late stages - I saw both of them on a regular basis and never detected the slightest sign of impatience on his part. He has always been and continued to be the example of a dedicated, patient, caring and loving husband. It was my privilege to be his friend.

I remember telling Don that at the time June was in the darkest shadows of her journey into Alzheimer's, was the time that my feelings of love for her and the desire to protect and care for her was the strongest - that such feelings only continued to intensify with time. He agreed that his feelings were much the same. Perhaps this is God bringing some goodness out of this terrible disease. Of course there were almost daily periods of grief and sadness and they continue to this day.




Stan's Note: As of June 20th 2018, 27,275 people have visited and read this page.


Reader's Comments

Groom, Texas (25 March, 2012): “I saw the homicide-suicide article. My brother-my life just comitted suicide a week and a half ago. He called me the night before and was grief stricken over our moms passing from Alzheimer’s. Although its been over a year, its still controlled his mind like a demon.” Editorial Note: This sad event indicates clearly that it is not only the husband and wife relationship that is prone to suicide when Alzheimer’s is a factor, but may also strike the parent and child relationship.

Sheila K.... - Rochester, New York - (27 March 2012):  "I agree with you. My husband was in a concentration camp and his whole family were murdered except for a few. B... K.... was on the cover of ....... magazine ........,1998. When I think of all the other wonderful people that were killed just because!  Can you imagine all the amazing people lost who could have made this world a better place, S....."

Jane Moore  - Camelford, United Kingdom - (4 March 2013): "Interesting knowledge there Stanton - I never even dreamt of this but our neighbours did say they had a pact a long time ago when the wife became ill and they are still soldiering on despite really stressful conditions."

Richard Criscione  - Cliffside Park, New Jersey - 10 September 2013): "Suicide is often referred to as "a permanent solution to a temporary problem"... In the case of Alzheimer's patients the problem isn't temporary ,rather ,predictable of it's future . Thus the rational of "ending it now " before the pain is greater . Having seen firsthand the ravages of AD ,it sheds light on WHY someone might resort to such a drastic conclusion ,and it also makes interpreting the figure mentioned, a little easier to understand . There just won't be a happy ending either way...Thank YOU, Stan ,for "nourishing" this page, with your experiences, and wisdom, as, I created it when my Mom was still alive, and suffering as were all of us, but your contributions, and your undying love for June, are an inspiration to all of us, and this fact  somehow eases some of the pain..."

Marjo VanderStokker Hadfield  - Arkansas - (10 September 2013): "So sad, needing lots of prayers for better ways to enjoy the life and help each other through the hard times."

Beth Ann Doucette  - Lino Lakes, Minnesota - (10 September 2013): "Oh my goodness, that is very sad, isn't it?:-( Too bad that this is true and it makes me even more aware how blessed we are with such caring family and friends. Too many elderly are alone or feel alone:-(:-( This can add to their state of mind. Don't you agree? Thank you for sharing, Stan."

Alisa Carnall  - Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada - (10 September 2013) : "Thanks for sharing this.  I hope that if I am ever diagnosed with any form of dementia and have not already done so, when I reach a stage where I can no longer read, enjoy life, know who or where I am that someone will have the courage and love to end my life.

Gill Denman  - Essex, United Kingdom - (10 september 2013): "Alisa - One of the things I am always cautious about is giving an opinion about what I would want in the future.  When I look back some years and compare what I thought the older me would want, then compare my values and opinions now, there is a huge difference.  I don't mean to be critical, what really worries me is that some medics think it is a kindness to help the elderly on their way, the person may still be in there with an altered perception of what they want."

Gilda Yen Torino  - Manila, Philippines - (10 September 2013): "Sad..."

Debbie Larsen  - Buffalo, Minnesota - (10 september 2013): "Thank you Stan for sharing this important news."

Bridie Breen  - Manchester, United Kingdom - (10 september 2013): "A painful reality."

Martina Kaut  - Furtwengen, Germany - (10 September 2013):  "Stanton, I totally agree with you ...sad but .... daily truth."

Vea Flood - Spring Hill, Florida - (6 September 2015): "Thank you Stan for another interesting and informative read...It's just so sad as it makes you think not only is a cure needed but more support for spouses and family members and for Alzheimer's/dementia patients themselves...thanks again Stan."




June's Passisng

June 1994

June Berg passed away on 23 October 2008 after almost 11 weary years of battling Alzheimer's. June's funeral notice as printed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune following her death in October 2008 can be found on the top blue navigation strip under the label "In Memoriam" and on the drop down menu as item:

"June K. (Rolstad) Berg - In Memoriam".