Having an elderly loved one with dementia can be scary, but if you add in guns and firearms, it can also get dangerous. To prevent harm to both the individual with dementia and others, it is important to plan ahead for how to deal with any weapons.
Research shows that 45 percent of all adults aged 65 years or older either own a gun or live in a household with someone who does. For the elderly with dementia, the risk for suicide increases, guns and firearms are the most common method of suicide among people with dementia. In addition, an elderly person with dementia who has a gun or firearms may put family members or caregivers at risk if the person gets confused about their identities or the possibility of intruders. A 2018 Kaiser Health News investigation that looked at news reports, court records, hospital data and public death records since 2012 and found more than 100 cases in which elderly people with dementia used guns or firearms to kill or injure themselves or others.
The best thing to do is talk about the guns and firearms before they become an issue. When an elderly person is first diagnosed with dementia, there should be a conversation about guns and firearms ownership similar to the conversation many health professionals have about driving and dementia. Framing the issue as a discussion about safety may help make it easier for the elderly person with dementia to acknowledge a potential problem. A conversation about guns and firearms can also be part of a larger long-term care planning discussion with an elder law attorney, who can help families write up a gun agreement that sets forth who will determine when it is time to take the guns away and where the guns should go. Even if the elderly person with dementia guns or firearms owner doesn’t remember the agreement when the time comes to put it to use, having a plan in place can be helpful.
What to do with the guns and firearms themselves is a difficult question. One option is to lock the weapon or weapons in a safe and store the ammunition separately. Having the guns remain in the house–even if they are locked away–can be risky. Another option is to remove the weapons from the house altogether. However, in some states, there are strict rules about transferring gun ownership, so it isn’t always easy to simply give the guns away. Families should talk to an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney and familiarize themselves with state and federal gun laws before giving away guns. One of the options that may be appropriate is to consider the use of a “gun trust” to provide a mechanism to transfer ownership of guns in a legally proper manner, whether during lifetime or at death.
In 2018, the Florida legislature approved Chapter 790, Florida Statutes. Chapter 790 allows a law enforcement officer to petition the court for a “risk protection order.” The risk protection order is designed to allow law enforcement officers to remove fire arms and ammunition from someone who “poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself or herself or others by having a firearm or any ammunition in his or her custody or control or by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm or any ammunition.” The statute was immediately utilized to remove firearms and ammunition from more than 450 people who were subject to domestic protection orders or the “risk protection order” authorized by the statute. While this measure is designed to include protections for those involved with the elderly who may suffer dementia, taking appropriate action to secure the guns and firearms before the need for a risk protection order is certainly desirable and safer.
Proper action and planning can be implemented to avoid the necessity for a risk protection order, without the involvement of law enforcement officers, or other third parties. Like so many other things in the estate planning and elder law arena, planning and implementation of those plans can avoid situations that can be costly, damaging, and irreversible. Ignoring reality will not make it go away. To ensure that your elderly loved one with dementia avoids actions that may be disastrous, take appropriate action to secure their guns and firearms.
For more information about the elderly with dementia and guns and firearms, click here and here. If you would like to discuss how to most effectively deal with the elderly and their guns, call us to schedule a consultation.