Caregivers’ Corner: The Scary Topic of Dementia and Guns

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson March 15, 2014 13:23

She was afraid to get up at night to go to the bathroom.

Her husband, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and exhibiting symptoms of paranoia, had recently recovered his favorite pistol from his son and stashed it in their bedside nightstand. He was sure he was being stalked and was ready to shoot at any nighttime intruder – including her, she feared.

Many safety issues need to be addressed when a loved one has dementia, but what should be done about guns is a big, tough family topic with lives at stake. And getting longtime owners to give up their guns may be just as hard as getting senior drivers to surrender the keys.

Rather than confront this problem head-on, however, families sometimes rationalize:

  • My husband is a retired police officer who absolutely knows how to handle guns.
  • My father has been a hunter his whole life.

The disease doesn’t care. Dementia will slowly strip away all the caution and care conferred by firearms training and years of experience. The illness’s progressive symptoms include impaired reason, personality changes, and declining inhibitions and impulse control.

The dangers of firearms and dementia were brought sharply and tragically into focus in the summer of 2000, when an 83-year-old man with dementia pulled a gun out of his pocket in a Veterans Administration hospital emergency room in Salisbury, N.C. and shot a doctor.
It’s not the first such story nor the last, but in the wake of that incident, the VA launched a nationwide firearms and dementia safety campaign.

What should you do if you have firearms in your home and a loved one with dementia?

  • Discuss the safety risks with your loved one early in the disease process, advises the Alzheimer’s Association, and if possible, have him or her agree that all firearms should be removed from the home right away.
  • If this is not possible, store all guns unloaded in a sturdy locked case (no glass).
  • Install locked trigger guards on all guns and keep case keys hidden from the dementia sufferer.
  • Consider entrusting the keys to cases and trigger guards to a friend or relative living elsewhere.
  • Lock up the ammunition separately in a fireproof safe.
  • Check to make sure no firearms are hidden around the house, in the garage, attic or in vehicles.

These steps are recommended by the VA and Alzheimer’s Association, which both have firearms safety brochures online. The association’s “Safety and the Right to Bear Arms” includes gentle ideas for dealing with resistance.

And that foothills woman who was afraid to go to the bathroom?

She had a frank phone conversation with her stepson about his father’s condition. The son arrived the next day and helped her go through the house. He then talked his dad into giving up the bedside pistol and several other weapons he had hidden.

Their doctor also prescribed a medication to help reduce her husband’s symptoms, making life a little easier for both of them.

Joan Jackson is a partner with Peter Carrillo in Practical Dreamer (588-1835), whose services include free caregiver support groups sponsored by Area 12 Agency on Aging.

 

Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson March 15, 2014 13:23
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