The combination of guns and dementia is a dangerous mix.
Many older Americans own a gun. If they develop dementia, it creates a very serious situation. People with dementia often don't realize how dangerous their guns can be. They often forget to use the basic safety procedures that they have followed for their whole life.
How does dementia affect a person's ability to safely handle guns? The table below can help explain.
Why Guns are Dangerous for People with Dementia
|Symptoms of Dementia||How it Affects Gun Safety|
|Memory Problems||They may forget to lock up the gun when little children are in the home.|
|Poor Judgment||They may use the gun on care partners or family members who might surprise them in their home or room.|
|Hallucinations (seeing or hearing something that isn't real)||They may use the gun on care partners or family members if they feel threatened or scared.|
|Depression (or other mood problems)||They may use the gun on themselves. Americans over age 65 have the highest rate of suicide.|
More than 60% of people with dementia are living in a home that has guns. Care partners may not be aware that there is a gun in the home. Families may be aware, but may not realize the dangers to themselves and others as their loved one's dementia worsens.
The first step is to always ask if there is a gun in the home. The table below lists questions to ask to help decide what to do.
|Questions To Ask||What To Do|
|Do you have guns, rifles, or other weapons in the home?||Hold a family meeting to plan what to do.|
|Is the gun locked and put away?||Guns should be locked and stored safely.|
|Is the gun loaded or unloaded?||Guns should always be unloaded.|
|Where are the bullets?||The bullets should be stored separately, away from the gun.|
|Are there children present?||Guns should not be left around children.|
|Does the gun owner feel depressed or down?||Guns should be hidden from people who are depressed or down because of the risk of suicide.|
|Does the gun owner have problems with vision or hearing?||Guns should not be used by people who have trouble hearing or seeing things.|
Most of the time, the gun should be removed from the home. However, if family members feel the gun is important for their own safety, they should always keep it locked with the key hidden, and the bullets kept in a separate place. Always keep the gun away from children.
Only people who have been trained in gun safety should handle a gun. Although it may seem easy to unload a gun, or put it away, that is often when accidents happen. Be sure that only trained people handle gun
Tips to Manage Guns in the Home
Remember that guns can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. People with dementia do not have the ability to safely use a gun. Do not allow people with dementia to have a gun, use a gun, or even be around a gun.
Written by: Mindy J. Fain, MD, University of Arizona