April 01, 2019

My husband has cognitive decline. Should I be concerned about his firearm collection?

Q: My husband has cognitive decline that's worsening. He also loves his firearm collection. Should I be concerned?

A: You have reason to be concerned. Having firearms becomes increasingly risky as mild cognitive impairment slides into more-severe dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Risks include:

  • Suicide — It's estimated that more than 90 percent of firearm deaths in older adults are suicides. Suicide is the leading cause of firearm death in people with dementia.
  • Harm to others — Someone with dementia may not recognize a familiar face and view that person as an intruder with harmful intent.
  • Harm to themselves — Having a gun in a tense situation, such as if the police are called, can escalate the risk of someone being harmed.

How you approach the situation depends mostly on the degree of cognitive decline and the willingness of the gun owner to give up the gun. Early on, a gun owner with mild cognitive decline may recognize the risks, just as someone might realize that it's time to hand over the car keys and stop driving. Bringing your doctor into the conversation can help you and your loved one determine where to draw the line based on progression of symptoms.

Your loved one may agree to an assessment or training by a firearm specialist or agree to restrict weapons access. Securing firearms is a reasonable first step. Still, the best security is getting the firearms out of the home.

If a loved one refuses to give up firearms, the conversation becomes more difficult. You may need to reach out...