Guns and Dementia

Statistics indicate that about 43% of American households have at least one gun in their possession. According to estimates by the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease today. By 2050, that number is project to rise to nearly 14 million. A 2018 Kaiser Health News investigation found more than 100 cases since 2012 where people with dementia used guns to kill or injure themselves or others.

If you care for a loved one who has dementia and you have guns in your home, have you considered the risks? Do you play them down by claiming your loved one has been operating a gun safely for 50 years and he would never hurt you—or himself?

Unfortunately, with dementia, it’s impossible to predict how the disease will affect a person. The condition can cause the brain to change in ways that may impact the person’s memory, personality, behavior, judgment, ability to reason, and ability to recognize family members. Dementia can cause confusion. Some types of dementia can even cause hallucinations.

Consider the following scenario: Your husband has dementia. He wakes during the night. He doesn’t know who you are. He thinks you’re an intruder in the house. He reaches for the handgun he keeps next to the bed. And BOOM, the rest is history.

Many Americans are proud gun owners. Firearms hold strong symbolic power. For some, taking away their gun would be equated to cutting off their right arm.

What do you do if you are concerned about the guns in your home?

A good first step is to talk about the situation when your loved one is first diagnosed with dementia. Start with your health care provider. The issue of dementia and guns is similar to the issue of dementia and driving. Talking to a health care provider may make the news go down easier.

Your next conversation should be with an elder care attorney at a Life Care Planning Law Firm where the topic of guns can be part of a larger discussion about long-term care. That conversation could result in a gun agreement that establishes who will determine when it is time to take the guns away and where the guns should go. Even if the gun owner doesn't remember the agreement when the time comes, having a plan in place will make things easier.

If your loved one’s dementia has progressed and you’re just now addressing the situation, try these tips:

  • Take inventory. How many guns exist? Are they loaded? Where are they stored? Is there a gun in the bedroom? Do you know where the ammunition is?
  • Inform your loved one’s doctor if there is a gun in the house and ask that he or she address the hazards. The physician may not be comfortable discussing the subject, but at least you can bring it to his or her attention and share your concerns. It’s becoming more and more difficult these days for health care providers to avoid taking an active role in gun safety.
  • Do your own online research for guns safety steps you can take yourself. The National Rifle Association offers tips on safe firearm storage.

The most important first step is to recognize that having a gun poses a safety risk to everyone and that people with dementia are at increased risk. Learn what you can do and take steps today to keep you, your loved ones, and caregivers safe. It may just save a life.