Should Physicians Ask Fragile Elders About Guns in Their Homes?

Some time ago I read a newspaper article written by an elderly man who was caring for his wife, who had Alzheimer’s disease. He was doing much of her care at home, and his article spoke of their history, how they had met, his family, and much more about their life together. He was sad but upbeat. A few months later, in the same paper I read an obituary for that man who had shot his wife and committed suicide.

The two articles, juxtaposed, made me feel great sadness. It drove home to me just how helpless and depressed people become — especially those who had great control over their lives — when confronted by a family member who has one of the dementia brain diseases.

The July 9, 2013 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine features a journal commentary, Geriatric Patients, Firearms, and Physicians, recommending that physicians evaluate an elder’s firearms risk just like they evaluate other risks such as driving and living alone. The author, Marshall B. Kapp, JD, MPH, points out that the “use of firearms, has become the most common suicide method for both geriatric men and women.”

The Recommendations in the Article?               

Interactions that most physicians already engage in with family members of impaired geriatric patients regarding restricting or eliminating driving or cooking might serve in many instances as a useful template for firearm-related conversations.

According to statistic from the Centers for Disease and Prevention, shared in a Medscape article, Physicians Urged to Ask Elderly Patients About Guns, (which requires users to sign up and login in), statistics collected from the CDC are stark:

  • From 2005 – 2010 firearms injuries accounted for 72% of the suicides among Americans age 65 and older.
  • The suicide rate for the elderly is 14.6 per 100,000 compared with 11.4 for all Americans.

 

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