Excerpts from “In Elderly Hands, Firearms Can Be Even Deadlier”

Here is an article from the New York Times that brought up a rarely addressed topic

Excerpts from “In Elderly Hands, Firearms Can Be Even Deadlier”

“Barbara Herrington, a geriatric care manager in Polk County, Fla., was calling on a 72-year-old woman with dementia and a long history of alcoholism.

Ms. Herrington knew her client would be angry that morning. Her daughter had taken the car away the day before because her mother was ignoring a neurologist’s instructions to stop driving and was heading out at night to buy liquor.

The door to the woman’s small home stood open — she often left it unlocked for her caregivers — so Ms. Herrington knocked, then leaned in and called her client’s name.

“She came out of the bedroom holding a pistol with both hands,” Ms. Herrington recalled. The woman took aim at her visitor, announcing that she wanted her car back.

Her hands were shaking, shaking, shaking,” Ms. Herrington said. “I didn’t know if it was loaded or not, and I didn’t care.” She backed away and called the daughter and the police, who later that day removed two Berettas and a pellet gun from the house.

The attachment to guns often dies hard for older people. Even after dementia develops, relinquishing them can feel “almost like an amputation,” said Dr. Michael Victoroff, a family medicine specialist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (and a certified firearms instructor).

One of his patients, a retired police officer, had long slept with his .38 service revolver by his bed. But as he neared age 80 and his dementia deepened, “he would wake up at night and not recognize his wife, see her as a stranger in his house,” Dr. Victoroff said.

Once Dr. Victoroff learned that the man had pointed the loaded .38 at his wife, the situation grew urgent. They turned to the man’s former partner on the police force, someone he trusted, to persuade him to give up his weapon.

More than 8,200 older adults committed suicide in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among men, those over age 65 are the likeliest to take their lives, and three-quarters of them use a gun.

“Suicide risk is elevated in people with dementia, but it’s more of a factor early in the illness,” said Dr. Yeates Conwell, a psychiatrist and director of the Office for Aging at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.

They should be. At various stages of dementia, people may grow unable to distinguish loved ones from intruders. Their decision-making ability deteriorates. They can become paranoid, depressed, impulsive, agitated or aggressive.”

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