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Dementia and Guns: A Dangerous Combination

Having a loved one with dementia can be scary. However, if you add in a firearm, it can also get dangerous.

Here’s a worrisome statistic: 45% of all adults age 65 or older, either own a firearm or live with someone who owns a gun. That’s a lot of people and a lot of guns. Firearms are the most common method of suicide for people with dementia, says the article “Guns and Dementia: Dealing With a Loved One’s Firearms” from J.D. Supra.

A person who has a gun and suffers from dementia can put family members or caregivers in grave danger, if the person suffers from confusion and doesn’t recognize the people around them. An investigation conducted by Kaiser Health in 2018 looked at news reports, court documents, hospital records and public death records since 2012. They found more than 100 cases, in which people with dementia used firearms to kill or injure themselves or someone else.

What is the best thing to do? Talk about the guns before they become a dangerous issue, like the moment someone is diagnosed with dementia. This is not that far from the conversation that must take place about driving and dementia, or for that matter, driving and aging.

Frame the issue as one about safety for the person and their loved ones. This is also the time to discuss guns and estate planning. Have a conversation with an elder lawyer that addresses an enforceable agreement about who has access to the guns, where the guns should be stored and what factors will determine when it is time for the guns to be taken out of the home. The gun owner may not remember the agreement, when it is necessary for it to be enforced. However, having the agreement in place will give the family member or other trusted individual clear directions about what steps to take.

What should you do with the guns themselves? You can start by separating the guns from the ammunition. If possible, have the weapons completely removed from the house. Local and state laws about the possession and transfer of firearms vary. Therefore, the family should consult an estate planning attorney, who is experienced in the relevant laws. It may be necessary for a gun trust to be created, and for family members to undergo training and licensing, if the firearms are going to be maintained or transferred to them.

Reference: J.D. Supra (Feb. 12, 2019) “Guns and Dementia: Dealing With a Loved One’s Firearms”

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