DEMENTIA AND FIREARMS
Gun owners who have been diagnosed with irreversible dementia or Alzheimer's will reach a point when they can no longer safely use a firearm.
What is Dementia?Dementia is not a specific disease. It describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities.*Alzheimer's disease*accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases.
Disease-Related Behavioral ChangesEighty-eight percent of Alzheimer*s disease patients undergo behavioral changes. The most common changes are agitation, anxiety, irritability, disinhibition, delusions, and hallucinations. Delusions are often paranoid or persecutory (i.e. delusions that someone was stealing from them or other abuses). The patients incorrectly perceived a non-existent attack or misidentified someone they knew as an imposter or a stranger.
Gun owners who have DementiaOne-third of all Americans over the age of 65 own a gun and an additional 12% live in a household where another person owns a gun. In 2010, there were 4.8 million persons diagnosed with Alzheimer*s, In 2050, the number of persons with Alzheimer's is expected to reach 13.8 million. When a family member is diagnosed with dementia, securing or removing firearms from the patient*s home is often not a consideration.
The use of firearms requires complex mental skills that are usually lost in early dementia and continue to worsen as the disease progresses. Loss of one*s ability to consistently recognize familiar people and places, an increase in physically aggressive behavior, disorientation and fear may place families and caregivers at risk. *Delusions of home intruders or confusion about the identity of persons in their lives may lead persons with dementia to confront family members, health aides, or other visitors. Access to a firearm may increase the potential for injury or death in such a situation.*
Precautions and AlternativesGun removal is the best option but depending on the fluctuating moods of the patient, once removed, they guns can be re-purchased or the *theft* could be reported to the police. Removing ammunition and locking weapons in a gun safe are also possible solutions.
If these precautions do not work, Red-Flag laws also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders or Gun Violence Restraining Orders permit families and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily suspend a person*s access to firearms if there is documented evidence that an individual is threatening harm to themselves or others. After a family member files a petition, the court holds a hearing and determines whether the person poses a serious threat of violence to themselves or others. The judge can issue an order restricting access to firearms for up to one year and can also refer the person in crisis for evaluation to ensure they get the help they need. Once a petition is filed, the court notifies the subject and a hearing is held. If the evidence of a threat is upheld by a judge, the order is put in place for one year and can be renewed annually should circumstances warrant. The subject may request one hearing a year to rescind the order.*
The Red-Flag statutes are law in six states and have been modestly successful in reducing suicide. However, this law could significantly mitigate the risk posed by that small proportion of legal gun owners who, at times, may pose a significant danger to themselves or others. When a gun owner has a dementia diagnosis, a Red-Flag law could be a life-saver.