Should people with dementia and Alzheimer's keep their guns?

July 10, 2018 07:18 AM

More states are making it easier for loved ones to confiscate guns from the elderly diagnosed with mental challenges through red flag laws, but New York is not one of them.

Experts say just like driving at an old age, operating a gas stove, and other daily tasks, firearms in a home could pose a serious risk. This risk is increased when your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's.

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Pew Research Center found 45 percent of people 65 and older have guns in their household. Kaiser Health News found more than a dozen homicides involving elderly people and more than 60 suicides.

Among men in the U.S., the suicide rate is highest among those 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Documents show the shooters often acted during bouts of confusion, paranoia, delusion or aggression which are common symptoms of dementia. 

Dr. Robert Young from Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership says families and caregivers must help health professionals recognize concerning signs and intervene.

"The right time is when they start to misunderstand how to use them, just like anything else or in some cases, they can start to get paranoid, become more worried about things and people than is realistic," Dr. Young said.

Dr. Young has concerns about red flag laws -- the laws that make it easier for law enforcement or loved ones to remove guns from homes.

"The problem with all of them so far is a lack of due process," Dr. Young said. "We have to remember the right to keep and bear arms is a very special right and as a result, it requires very special consideration."

Toni Sexton, vice president of Programs and Services at Rochester Alzheimer's Association, agrees gun ownership is a sensitive subject for the elderly, especially those who have spent their lifetimes hunting or in law enforcement.

"We encourage families to have a very open and honest conversation with the person diagnosed with the disease to understand their wishes, to understand the safety concerns that come with gun ownership as the disease progresses," Sexton said.

She adds it is important to include your loved one in the conversation and to do that, you must have the talk early in the diagnosis to make sure they are in the best mental state possible.

Experts from the Alzheimer's Association also suggest encouraging your loved ones to pass on their firearms to another generation. This could make the process smoother and seamless.

The Alzheimer's Association has a 24-hour helpline with care consultants standing by to assist you in having these conversations and formulating a plan at 1-800-272-3900.


Kaci Jones

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