Guns And Dementia: Keeping Seniors Safe

guns and dementia keeping seniors safe

Typically, senior safety concerns around dementia include things like taking away the keys, making a home safer and more accessible and ensuring qualified adults are keeping a caring watch 24/7.

However, a recent NPR feature reminds us there’s another safety issue to consider – guns and dementia.

Does your senior loved one own a gun?

According to NPR, researchers estimate that more than half of seniors 65-years and older either own a gun, or live in a home with a gun. Over the next 20 years, the Alzheimer’s Association expects about 14 million of those seniors to have a dementia diagnosis.

Those with dementia are more prone to firing a gun because:

  • They become angry, violent or more agitated quickly
  • They can mistake loved ones as strangers and “defend” the house
  • They may not really be aware of what they’re doing an accidentally fire a gun they’re cleaning, holding or trying to handle responsibly
  • They may use a gun as a toy and accidentally fire it

Guns and dementia safety tips

It’s critical that families and caregivers prioritize gun safety and the safety of everyone involved.

Consider removing guns completely

The best and most guaranteed method for preventing gun violence is to remove the guns from the home completely. Have a conversation with the family first. If it feels like your senior loved one will notice the absence of the gun/s and be upset, then you’ll need to have a conversation with him/her as well.

If the family supports removing the gun, or a trusted authority feels clear it’s a safety issue, but your loved one is completely opposed, you may need to remove the firearms against his/her will. Experts recommend this is done when s/he is out of the home to make it as easy and safe as possible.

Understand that locking or disabling a gun(s) may not work

According to the Alzheimer’s Association:

“People living with dementia sometimes misperceive danger and may do whatever seems necessary to protect themselves, even if no threat exists. These actions can include breaking into gun cabinets, finding ammunition and loading guns. Preventing a gun from firing may not prevent the person living with the disease or others from being harmed.”

You must take notable safety measures if you choose to live in a home where there are guns and dementia, Alzheimer’s or other conditions causing cognitive decline.

Use a high-quality combination lock on cabinet or safe

If getting rid of the guns isn’t an option, use a gun cabinet or safe that requires a combination lock. If one is already in use, change the combination and only give it to those who understand the risk, are familiar with guns and gun safety and who promise they will not ever allow the individual with dementia to access the cabinet or the guns.

Speak about who inherits what now – and pass them on

If the guns weren’t included specifically in a will or trust, this can be a good opportunity to determine who will inherit what from the gun/firearms collection and pass them on now. If your loved one is still doing well, this can be a very special way to honor the collection and those who receive it, and it can make the transition easier on your loved one.

Enlist the help of law enforcement

If your loved one was the gun expert, and nobody else is familiar with guns and gun safety, enlist the help of local safety officers to unload the cabinet, ensure the guns aren’t loaded, to lock/disarm them, dispose of ammunition, etc., so nobody is harmed in the process.

Familiarize yourself with local/state gun laws

If nobody wants the guns, enlist help from a hunting friend or someone knowledgeable about guns and firearms before selling or giving them away to ensure you do so in compliance with the law.

Honor their feelings about having to say goodbye

For someone who values their guns and the role they’ve played in the person’s life, getting rid of them is another major loss of self and independence. These are valid feelings and they deserve to be honored and spoken to. It’s important to address this understandable anger or grief, and then work to re-direct the feelings in a positive and productive way because ultimately guns and dementia don’t mix.

HomeAide Home Care has provided licensed and expert care for seniors since 1998. In the past two decades, we have provided compassionate assistance to individuals, couples and families around the Bay Area. Our companion and in-home services can help keep your senior loved one safe and sound in the comfort of his/her home. Contact us to learn more.

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