EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The latest study by New Mexico State University and the University of Toledo shows that firearm suicides among the elderly have increased 49 percent from 2010 to 2018, but experts say the number could further increase during the pandemic.

According to the study, which analyzed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s death data, 70 percent of all elderly suicides in the U.S. are committed by a firearm.

Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, public health professor at New Mexico State University and one of the authors of the study, said “older people have been more isolated, their physical health and mental health is declining and they still continue to live with guns at home. Almost one in four people have guns at home.”

He said that with the pandemic, isolation has increased with elderly and many are struggling with communication and services switching online.

“Given the pandemic, and how life will change now, health care providers will have to think of out-of-box ways to provide health care for older people,” he said.

Dr. Fabrizzio Delgado, psychiatrist with Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso, said “the numbers are frightening,” referring to the number of attempted suicide patients he has been receiving in the past year.

He said that most of his patients are 50 years and older and that the suicide attempts he has been seeing are more traumatic and severe than ever.

“I’ve seen, first hand, the amount of patients, the increasing number of suicide attempts,” he said.

Delgado pointed out that many older adults that are thinking about committing suicide have seen a physician at least once in six months prior, but their condition often goes unnoticed.

He encouraged family members, neighbors and, especially, physicians to ask about their mental health. The elderly are automatically considered high risk, he said, and need to be properly screened.

“[The number] is terribly high and I feel that this pandemic has hit our community very, very hard,” he added.