A Parent has Alzheimer’s and a Gun. What Do You Do?

Senior man and his gun

Ever since Gregg Schnepp retired, his favorite activity has been gathering with his friends at the shooting range. According to his wife, Joanne, who is a strong believer in the right to bear arms, “shooting is about his only interest in life.” However, as a 70-year old with both mental and physical decline, it is becoming unsafe for Gregg to carry a gun.

Joanne knows she has to talk to her husband, but she is hesitant to take away the one thing that gives him so much enjoyment. Luckily, in the Schnepp’s situation, Gregg is fully aware and although it‘s tough, he’s willing to do what has to be done for his own safety and the safety of others. According to Gregg, who professed his love of shooting and “breaking clays,” it (giving up the gun) will “be a tough thing to do. It’s something I wouldn’t want to hear or want to tell anybody, but if it’s necessary, it’s necessary.  ”Unfortunately, most people faced with the same situation aren’t as willing and cooperative as Gregg, which can make for a tough conversation.

The Prevalence of this Situation

Currently, around 40% of the country’s older population has a firearm in the home, according to the Pew Research Center, and about 11% of people 65 and older have Alzheimer’s. People with Alzheimer’s can become aggressive and hallucinate, sometimes lose peripheral vision, fail to recognize loved ones, and forget the purpose of an object. Therefore, a person who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia with a gun can make for dangerous, and sometimes deadly, consequences.

For instance, last month, Rolfe Pilati, 87, killed his wife, before shooting himself at their Virginia home. A son told investigators that Mr. Pilati had dementia. In September, a Minnesota man with Alzheimer’s, Kenneth Bowser, 90, fatally shot his son, telling investigators that he feared the son would kill him. In other recent cases, people with dementia have killed or injured friends and relatives in Oregon, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

So, while homicides committed by people with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia are not everyday occurrences, they can very well happen when loved ones suffering from the disease became disoriented, pull guns from hiding places, and then struggle to explain their actions. Therefore, for the safety of everyone, if your loved one has a gun and shouldn’t have one anymore due to mental or physical decline, it’s important to take action.

Families are Reluctant to Remove Guns after a Diagnosis

There are a few studies out there that examine gun ownership among people with dementia and other cognitive disorders. Unfortunately, in most cases, they suggest that families are not removing guns after a diagnosis. In one assessment, which examined 106 patients at a South Carolina clinic, 60% of them still had a firearm at home. In another, involving 495 people at a Cleveland clinic, 18% did.
Why is this happening? It could be in large part because many relatives do not know how to approach the subject. Also, while doctors are legally permitted to give advice about gun storage, they often do not, according to a paper published in May in Annals of Internal Medicine. “Some physicians believe it is against the law to discuss firearms,” the authors wrote. Others are unfamiliar with “what to say during firearm safety counseling and how to say it.”

Suggestions from the Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association offers guidance on how to minimize risks associated with firearms in homes where a loved one has dementia, as follows:

• Put a plan in place as soon as a diagnosis is made, just as you might plan to remove a driver’s license or a checkbook.
• Include your relative in the conversation. Beth Kallmyer, a vice president at the association, suggests: “There is going to come a time when you can no longer handle the gun safely. How do you want us to handle this in a way that respects you?”
• Consider having a hunting buddy or a favorite child lead the discussion.
• Make the gun transfer part of a family tradition. Ms. Kallmyer suggests: “You got that gun when you were 10? How about we give it to your grandson?”
• Don’t simply remove bullets or disable the gun. Police officers will not be aware that the firearm is disabled, and they could injure anyone holding it.
• If the relative is too confused for a discussion, it may be time just to confiscate the gun. Do it while the owner is out of the house. Also remove holsters and other reminders of the gun. “Ultimately, safety is more important,” Ms. Kallmyer said.

Have you struggled to discuss firearms with an aging relative? As you can see, these conversations can be challenging, but are very important. Remember, law enforcement may be able to assist, and a doctor may provide advice. The Alzheimer’s Association also has counselors available 24/7 at 1-800-272-3900.

Medicaid Planning for Alzheimer’s and Other Types of Dementia

Do you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia? Alzheimer’s is the biggest health and social care challenge of our generation, and a diagnosis of the disease is life-changing.  When it comes to planning for long-term care needs, generally, the earlier someone with dementia plans, the better.  But it is never too late to begin the process of Long-term Care Planning, also called Medicaid Planning, Lifecare Planning, and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning.

Medicaid planning can be initiated by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, even if your loved one is already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care.

Medicaid Planning

Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At Farr Law Firm, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones.  We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. Please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a consultation:

Fairfax Alzheimer’s Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Alzheimer’s Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Alzheimer’s Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Alzheimer’s Planning: 202-587-2797

P.S. If you or a loved one own firearms, keep in mind that certain items, including guns, cannot simply be left to others in the same way that you would leave other property. They may be subject to strict regulations, or you may have specific instructions that may not be accounted for in your Wills or Trusts. Luckily, there are gun trusts and other strategies available for these thingsRead more here.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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