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A Gun May Not Be The Deadliest Weapon In Your Senior Loved One’s Home

A lively discussion about gun control with friends and siblings brought back a memory about an instance a case where an adult with dementia and other psychiatric issues endangered the life of his spouse of over more than 50 years.

My client hired me because her husband had been hospitalized at one of the local geriatric-psychiatric units. He had a habit of wandering away from the house unbeknownst to his wife, only to be re-directed home by one of their neighbors. He abused his wife verbally and threatened her.

My client’s husband had been a gardener and a gentle man who enjoyed engaging in outdoor activities. This included chopping firewood in the backyard. During one of his tirades at home, he chose to go into the garage, find his wood chopping axe, and threatened to kill his wife with it. Fortunately, his children intervened and at that point he was taken to the psychiatric facility for observation.

After meeting with the wife and listening to the story, I decided that the case was far beyond something that I was capable of handling, due to the profound clinical mental healthcare needs involved. I told her that I felt that a typical nursing home with a specialized care unit for residents with dementia would probably would not be able to keep her husband him on a long-term basis because of his predisposition to violent acts. I told her that if the couple’s social worker wanted to give her some placement referrals, I would be happy to comment on them and give opinions about the communities based upon my past experiences. She was agreeable to that arrangement.

Much to my surprise, the social worker recommended that my client’s husband he be released to a nursing home with a dementia unit that was not secured. When I called the social worker and questioned the referral, she told me that she had visited the community, was impressed with it, and the employees of the facility were willing to “give it a try.”

As I had predicted, the man’s stay at the facility was very short. He was abusive toward the staff, became violent with them on more than one occasion, and escaped from the nursing home not only once but twice. In the end, he was placed in the mental health facility in Elgin on a long-term basis.

When a senior’s troubling behavior begins to include signs of verbal and physical aggression, it is imperative that one confer with one’s clinical healthcare provider and perhaps a senior living specialist, before a dangerous or even deadly situation can develop. Our experience here at Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors demonstrates that a household need not necessarily have guns to be potentially dangerous for a senior and his or her spouse and family. In my client’s case, the primary weapon of concern was an axe typically used for wood chopping. But let’s face it: even kitchen knives, a heavy skillet or other hefty object can inflict harm, as can uncontrolled and angry human hands alone.

As a recent Kaiser Health News article points out, when a senior exhibits certain signs of dementia, family members often recognize that it is time to ask the senior to hand over his or her car keys, lest it be too dangerous for the senior to drive. But the same thinking often does not apply to other potential dangers, such as guns or – in the case of my client – a household axe. According to the article by JoNel Aleccia and Melissa Bailey, a Kaiser Health News investigation found more than 100 cases across the U.S. in which people with dementia used guns to kill or injure themselves or others. Along with partners at the PBS NewsHour, the Kaiser investigators found that shooters often acted during episodes of confusion, paranoia, delusion or aggression — common symptoms of dementia. They often killed people closest to them (a caretaker, spouse, or other family member) or they shot at people they happened to encounter (a postal carrier, a law enforcement officer, et al.)

Short of removing a senior’s guns from a household altogether, some family members elect to hide the ammunition and the keys to gun storage. While the policymakers and voters will long debate the pros and cons of restrictive gun laws, common sense is always a good starting point in any home.

Whether a gun or common wood axe or heavy skillet or automobile – many objects can become dangerous and even deadly when mixed with dementia and other mental health problems associated with aging. At ADSLA we make it our goal to help families not only avoid harm and heartbreak but also enjoy safe, comfortable living in keeping with each senior’s unique capacities and needs.

Unlocked And Loaded: Families Confront Dementia And Guns