If you are a caregiver to an older adult, don’t be surprised if your loved one is asked if there is a gun in their home during the next doctors’ office visit. In the past. such questioning was usually out of concern for young children in a home who may find a loaded weapon in the house. And we have all seen the reports in newspapers across the country when a youngster discovers a sidearm in a parent’s room. Now, as geriatric care managers, our profession also involves talking about gun safety among our clients. Why? In an article published just this past week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, doctors are now being encouraged to ask their older patients about firearms in their homes.
Doctors are rightly pointing out that the higher rates of dementia, depression or memory issues place older adults at a high risk for suicidal behavior. According to the latest data available, firearms account for more than seven of ten suicides among adults 65 years of age and older. This is compared with just 51 percent among the population as a whole. For those 65 and older, the suicide rate is 14.6 per 100,000 versus only 11.4 per 100,000 of the population overall. And suicides with handguns outnumber homicides with handguns. There is no denying the second amendment rights of all citizens, but the suicide risk is a matter to address. Physicians are now being encouraged to ask about guns in the home among their older patients, which places this at the level of a national health issue.
I recently heard a local official talking to an audience of older, middle-aged and younger business professionals about what we may call geriatric suicide. He asked for a show of hands for all those who at some point in their lives have owned motorcycles. I was a bit surprised by the relatively large number of hands that went up. He asked those that no longer had motorcycles to lower their hands, and it was mostly the older contingent who took their hands down. He asked one of the older folks why they no longer owned a two-wheeler, and then another and another. The answer? It wasn’t safe for them anymore. A lot of heads nodded. Some may feel that the same reasoning should be applied to those who own firearms.
I am not pro-gun or anti-gun, but I am a professional advocate on behalf of older adults. Give the medical guidelines a read to see if this may be a discussion you wish to have with your older loved one. Also, please comment on this posting if you have an opinion you would like to share. Like so many issues that are important for us to address, there are no easy answers.
Charlotte Bishop is founder of Creative Care Management, a team of geriatric care managers and certified professionals who are advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.