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Are Alzheimer’s Patients Safe Around Guns? Doctors Say It’s Worth Discussing.

File / Rich Pedroncelli / AP

File / Rich Pedroncelli / AP

If you’re thinking of taking an older relative’s car keys, it might also be time to separate them from their firearms.

A report this month from UC Davis, the University of Colorado and other institutions found that patients with dementia who own firearms are at heightened suicide risk. The number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to more than double by 2050.

The authors, who created guidelines to help doctors to talk to patients with memory loss about gun use, also encourage worried loved ones to have the family member with dementia sign an agreement, giving up control of the firearm after their condition becomes severe.

“People with dementia can have a lot of paranoia or anxiety, sometimes aggressive behavior,” said Dr. Emmy Betz, an emergency physician at the University of Colorado and an author on the report.

“It stands to reason that you wouldn’t want them to have access to firearms, to sharp objects, to power tools,” she said. “It's not that firearms are the only thing that can be dangerous, but they're intended to be lethal.”

The Alzheimer's Association Northern California and Northern Nevada chapter said in a statement that locking or disabling a gun may not be enough, as people acting irrationally may break into gun cabinets, find ammunition, and load guns. They suggest removing guns from the home entirely.

“Probably there are a lot of parallels to conversations about driving and older adults — very emotional, sensitive topics, but important topics that we can’t ignore,” Betz said. “It can be hard to tell when it’s time to hang up the keys, so to speak.”

Some groups oppose doctors talking to patients about guns, and some states have legal restrictions on what they can say in the medical setting.

Find the guidelines for how to talk to family members about firearms here.

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