Having a loved one with dementia can be scary, but add in access to a firearm and things can become especially dangerous.
Research shows that 45 percent of all adults aged 65 years or older either own a gun or live in a household with someone who does. For someone with dementia, the risk of suicide increases; firearms are the most common method of suicide among people with dementia. In addition, someone with dementia who has a gun may put family members or caregivers at risk if the person with dementia gets confused about people’s identities, or if they think someone is an intruder. A 2018 Kaiser Health News investigation looked at news reports, court records, hospital data and public death records since 2012 and found more than a hundred cases in which people with dementia used guns to kill or injure themselves or others.
The best thing to do is talk about guns before they become an issue. When someone is first diagnosed with dementia, there should be a conversation about gun ownership similar to the conversation many health professionals have about driving and dementia. Framing the issue as a discussion about safety may help make it easier for the person with dementia to acknowledge a potential problem.
A conversation about guns can be part of a larger long-term care planning discussion with an elder law attorney, who can help families write up an agreement that sets forth who will determine when it is time to take the guns away and where they should go. Even if the gun owner doesn’t remember the agreement when the time comes to put it to use, having a plan in place can be helpful.
Deciding what to do with guns is difficult. One option is to lock a weapon or weapons in a safe and store the ammunition separately. However, having guns in the house, even if they are locked away, can be risky.
Another option is to remove the weapons from the house altogether. However, in some states rules about transferring gun ownership are strict. Families should talk to their attorney and familiarize themselves with state and federal gun laws before giving away guns.