Talk Early About When to Retire Firearms

Adult children of aging parents often argue about how long it will be safe for Mom or Dad to keep driving and having those difficult discussions when it’s time to hang up the keys for good can be emotional. But driving isn’t the only danger elderly adults may pose to themselves and others, firearms can also be a safety concern, especially for seniors with dementia.

Implementing changes can be challenging for grown children or other caregivers but according to a recent editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine, as many as 60 per cent of people with dementia have access to guns.  In many homes, guns are commonplace and may be overlooked by families dealing with other pressing issues when dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia.

Access to guns not only increases the risk for suicide but can also be a danger for family members or caregivers if the elderly adult suffers from delusions or hallucinations as a result of dementia.   In a perfect world, older adults who own guns would set up a firearm trust, creating a framework for when and by whom their weapons should be taken away or “retired”.  Storing hunting weapons in another, safe location, only to be used under supervision could be a option in the early stages of cognitive decline.

As dementia progresses, if guns are not removed completed from the home, they should at the very least be locked away with ammunition stored separately and the trigger disabled.  But despite the best efforts of families, people with dementia can be unpredictable and may break into locked cabinets or find ammunition if they perceive a threat, even mistakenly.  And police will not have any way to know if a gun is loaded or disabled if confronted, putting lives at risk.

Planning ahead and talking early about how to safely handle firearms in the home as parents age is as important as talking about driving, living independently or creating an advanced health directive.  These discussions may be difficult but are so necessary and could save a life.

For more information about firearm safety and dementia, follow this link to the Alzheimer’s Association website.