Introduction: Fewer studies thus far have focused on self-harm and its specific forms among older adults. Moreover, the limited available literature applies varying terminology. The categorization of self-harm used in younger populations may not be as appropriate for this population. This means that less is known about this phenomenon in older adults. The current study aimed to reduce this gap. Methods: Nine Flemish psychogeriatric experts participated in a semi-structured interview. Transcripts were thematically analyzed. Results: Themes emerging from the interviews suggest that self-harm in older adults may also include distinct elements, such as the omission of certain behaviours and engagement in indirect self-harm to cause bodily harm. According to the experts, self-harm may be engaged in to cope with emotions, express life fatigue, hasten death, and communicate a cry for help. Discussion: Self-harm is prevalent in older adults, and some characteristics may be specific to self-harm in an older age group. These findings may enable clinicians to be more alert to self-harm in older adults and consequently prevent serious suicidal behaviour. More research is needed to further uncover this phenomenon.

Fewer studies have focused on self-harm (or intentionally self-injuring oneself, irrespective of the apparent purpose) and its specific forms in older adults. The current study aimed to close this gap by interviewing nine Flemish psychogeriatric experts about their experiences with self-harm in older adults. The interviews were transcribed and thematically analyzed. Themes emerging from the interviews suggest that self-harm in older adults may include distinct elements, such as omitting behaviours (e.g., not eating) and engaging in indirect behaviours (e.g., alcohol overuse) as a way to cause physical or psychological harm. According to the experts, older adults may engage in self-harm to cope with emotions, express life fatigue, hasten death, and communicate a need for help. Based on these findings, we can conclude that self-harm is prevalent in older adults, and some elements may be specific to self-harm in an older age group. These findings may enable clinicians to be more alert to self-harm in older adults and consequently prevent serious suicidal behaviour. More research is needed to further uncover this phenomenon.

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