Dementia & Firearm Safety

Online firearm safety guide for older adults & caretakers

Certain conditions, prevalent among older adults, including early cognitive changes associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease-Related Dementias (AD/ADRD), place them at high-risk for firearm suicide. Firearms are the most common and deadly mechanism used for suicide among older adults. As a person ages, firearms are used in suicides with increasing frequency. Persons with Dementia (PWD) have suicide mortality rates 1.5x greater than persons without Dementia.

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Worldwide, 55 million people are living with Alzheimer’s and other Dementias.

In Washington:

  • 120,000 people aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s in Washington
  • 11.1% of people aged 45 and older have subjective cognitive decline
  • 297,000 family caregivers bear the burden of the disease in Washington
  • 429 million hours of unpaid care provided by Alzheimer’s caregivers
  • $9.7 billion is the value of the unpaid care
  • $547 million is the cost of Alzheimer’s to the state Medicaid program

What is Dementia? There are many forms of dementia, all referring to problems with the brain. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is an early change in the brain that may eventually lead to Dementia, but sometimes resolves.

Is Alzheimer’s Disease the same as MCI? MCI is not as severe as Alzheimer Disease (AD), the most common form of dementia or other AD-related Dementias (ADRD). People living with MCI are more likely to develop AD or ADRD, but sometimes the condition may improve or remain the same.

Sources: National Institute on Aging (nia.nih.gov), National Institute of Health (nih.gov), and Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org)

10 Early Signs of Alzheimer's Disease or other Dementia:

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, many are common to other forms of Dementia.

These include the following:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgement
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

Why are we concerned about Firearm Safety for Persons with Dementia (PWD)?

Safety is a major concern for PWD. They are at a greater risk of injury due to the potential for problems with their memory, judgement, and mood. One safety concern that is often overlooked is firearm safety. Approximately 40% of older adults, including persons with Dementia may have a firearm in the home and many do not keep them stored safely.

What can care partners or family members do to promote firearm safety?

Having discussions with your loved ones about firearms is important. Scheduling a time to discuss firearm safety, and coming prepared with a discussion template might help facilitate the conversation. Guides such as the Firearm Life Plan offer documents to help plan for firearm safety. These conversations should start before any signs of memory loss or cognitive impairment but can still be helpful if your loved one has been diagnosed with MCI or Dementia. If there is an immediate safety risk, some of the resources available in our Three Interventions Toolkit may be helpful to guide you in immediately removing the firearm from the home.

What can clinicians do to help promote firearm safety?

Clinicians can and should, ask their patients about access to firearms and firearm safety in routine clinical care. Asking patients about firearms in the context of other safety issues may make it more comfortable to address. If a patient acknowledges they have a firearm. The clinician may follow up to ask if the firearm is stored unloaded in a locked safe, with ammunition locked separately. If it is not, a clinician may provide their patient with information on resources for safer firearm storage.

When should we ask patients about firearms?

  • Routine wellness visits, as part of a standard clinical template
  •  After a diagnosis of a serious health problem
  • If they have chronic pain
  • If they face changes in functional status requiring more assistance
  • Revisit the discussion about firearms annually (or more frequently, if necessary)

How should we ask patients about firearms?

  • Ask in the context of a safety assessment and include other safety issues
  • Ask how they value and enjoy using their firearms, and allow them to share stories if they wish
  • Ask if they currently have firearms in the home, then ask if they have a plan for the future

What should we do if a patient says they have a firearm in the home, and there is a risk factor for suicide?

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) (warm hand-off, if necessary)
  • If not an immediate risk, provide them with resources such as our Three Interventions Toolkit and University of Colorado’s Firearm Life Plan
  • Ask how the firearm is stored and counsel your patient on the safest options for storage (which is storing the firearm unloaded and ammunition separately, and securely locked)

Please download & share HIPRC's Dementia & Firearm Safety Resources

For families & caretakers:

Dementia & Firearm Resource Guide

Dementia & Firearm Resource Guide en Español 

For clinicians or medical professionals:

Clinician Dementia & Firearm Information

Resources:

Dementia & Firearm Resources

Social Media Graphics:

Downloadable Free Graphics

Media Press Release:

Dementia & Firearm Press Release

Media inquiries: Susan Gregg, 206-616-6730sghanson@uw.edu

 

 

Do you need immediate assistance? CALL 9-1-1*

( *9-8-8 will be available July 16, 2022 )

  • HIPRC’s Three Interventions Toolkit is a FREE digital toolkit featuring three interventions which address firearm injury and death: Firearm Safe Storage, Voluntary Waiver of Firearm Rights, and Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO).Learn more at: hiprc.org/3interventionstoolkit
  • University of Colorado’s Firearm Life Plan was developed to help people think about important questions related to their firearms and protect their families from the burden of making difficult decisions without guidance.Learn more at: firearmlifeplan.org
  • Forefront Suicide Prevention provides suicide prevention programs, trainings, and resources.Learn more at: intheforefront.org
  • Find safe storage for firearms outside your home with the Washington Safe Storage Map.Learn more at: hiprc.org/firearm/firearm-storage-wa
  • Use Voluntary Waiver of Firearm Rights to confidentially restrict immediate access to firearm purchase, stopping impulsive suicide attempts.Learn more at: courts.wa.gov/forms
  • Petition for an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) when an individual’s behavior indicates substantial risk of suicide or harm to self or others.Learn more at: protectionorder.org/erpo
  • Contact the King County Regional Domestic Violence Firearms Enforcement Unit for help with petitioning for an ERPO.Learn more at: kingcounty.gov
  • King County Crisis Connections focuses on serving the emotional and physical needs of individuals.
    They can be reached by calling 2-1-1.Learn more at: crisisconnections.org
  • In emergencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)Learn more at: suicidepreventionlifeline.org

This web site is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician. No physician-patient relationship is created by this web site or its use. Neither HIPRC, the University of Washington, nor its employees, nor any contributor to this web site, makes any representations, express or implied, with respect to the information provided herein or to its use.