My 91 year old father is showing signs of dementia. Because he lives alone with no family nearby he has a companion all day and evening until midnight.  I know that he keeps two loaded guns in his home and because of his increasingly impaired judgment we are very worried that a dreadful accident could happen. We’ve been unable to get him to allow us to remove them. Any suggestions about this situation?

Children and those with impaired cognition due to mental illness or age-related dementia should not have access to unsecured firearms in the home. I strongly advise that all firearms be removed from the premises as quickly as possible. His aide and the agency must be told immediately since it is an unreasonable risk for a caregiver. Chances are they will leave until the issue is resolved. 

How should this be implemented knowing your father’s insistence on keeping them? I asked Suzanne Modigliani, an Aging Life Care Specialist at Modigliani Geriatrics in Boston for her advice.

"Because of your father’s impaired judgment and poor impulse control, you cannot rely on him to know when he is “protecting himself” from intruders. He could feel threatened by the aide, or you, and reach for a gun before you realize it.  I would not advise the family to start a negotiation around this as they may put themselves in jeopardy. Instead, I would get the police involved, but not as a 911 call. It would be safer to go to the local station, explain the situation and arrange for an officer to come by the house in the least threatening way possible."

The situation you have described is common enough to have prompted a survey in July 2016 of Aging Life Care Managers (formerly known as Geriatric Care Managers) to learn whether they discuss this topic when conducting their initial assessment.  It revealed that unsecured firearms is a safety concern of many professionals who care for the elderly.  Overwhelmingly, respondents said that the safety implications of guns in the house had to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, citing cognitive functioning, medications, diagnoses and family dynamics. 

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Category: Caregiving, Family Relationships, Memory Disorders/Dementia/Alzheimer's Disease, Lifestyle, Medical