In people living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, there are important lifestyle considerations that need to be made. These range from driving, cooking, and using power tools to whether or not it is safe for an individual to own a firearm. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine1 discussed the latter consideration.
According to the study, it is estimated that more than 50% of people with dementia live in a household with a firearm, either owned by them or someone they live with. This places not only the person with dementia in danger, but also family members, caregivers, and visitors. Though no validated screening tool to assess access to firearms in cognitively impaired patients currently exists, the Alzheimer’s Association provides resources on safety topics including firearm ownership. They advise that locking or disabling a gun may not be enough to ensure safety, and recommend that caregivers consider removing guns from the home entirely. They also suggest that clinicians ask questions of caregivers of a cognitively impaired person to determine whether there are firearms in the home, and whether the patient has access to them.
There is also no consensus on the appropriate time in disease progression to approach these considerations. Currently, only 2 states (Hawaii and Texas) specifically include dementia in their firearm statutes. These states prohibit the possession or purchase of firearms by individuals who have been diagnosed with dementia. For states that don’t outline this specific case in statutes, one suggestion provided is for patients, their caregivers, and their healthcare providers to agree on a “firearm retirement date.” This allows the patient to be actively involved in the decision and to assist in forming a plan for the future.
Additional research is still required to compile and analyze data on the topic of people with dementia and the possession of firearms. Ultimately, it is part of physicians’ duty to inquire about and counsel patients in matters of personal safety and to provide appropriate suggestions on topics such as firearm ownership.
- Betz ME, McCourt AD, Vernick JS, Ranney ML, Maust DT, Wintemute GJ. Firearms and dementia: clinical considerations [published online May 8, 2018]. Ann Intern Med. doi:10.7326/M18-0140
- Alzheimer’s Association. Staying Safe. www.alz.org/national/documents/brochure_stayingsafe.pdf. Published 2007. Accessed May 23, 2018.