Firearm presence in households of patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1999 Oct;47(10):1183-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1999.tb05197.x.


Objective: Attention has recently been drawn to the potential dangers of firearm use among patients with dementia. However, little is known about the actual prevalence of firearms in households with demented family members. This study seeks to determine the prevalence and loaded status of firearms in households with a demented family member in a sample of outpatients at a University memory disorders clinic.

Design: Utilizing a cross-sectional design, subjects underwent a structured NINCDS-ADRDA criteria comprehensive evaluation to assess dementia and were also administered a questionnaire to assess level of mood disturbance. Family members were administered a behavioral checklist and surveyed about the number and loaded status of firearms in the patient's household.

Setting: The study took place in an outpatient Medical University memory disorders clinic in the Southern United States.

Patients: Subjects were 106 consecutive outpatients referred for symptoms suggestive of dementia.

Main outcome measures: Firearm presence was coded as "present," "not present," and "unsure." In cases where firearms were present, the number and loaded status were collected. Other outcome measures included the Clinical Dementia Rating of each patient, the Yesavage Mood Inventory, and the Revised Memory and Behavior Problems Checklist.

Results: A high prevalence of firearm prevalence in households with demented family members was revealed (60.4%). Gun ownership was equally prevalent in households regardless of the severity of the dementia (chi-square, P = .426), severity of behavioral disturbance (ANOVA P = .88), or depressive symptoms (ANOVA P = .37). In households with firearms, 44.6% of the families reported that the guns were kept loaded; 38% reported that they did not know whether the guns were loaded. Only 16.9% of the families reported that guns were maintained in an unloaded state.

Conclusions: This study suggests that many family members living in households in which there are demented patients do not take appropriate action to remove or unload firearms in their households, regardless of the severity of dementia, behavioral disturbance, or depression. These findings suggest that clinicians need to ask families specifically about the presence of firearms and advocate for their removal.

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dementia / psychology*
  • Female
  • Firearms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Household Work / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Status Schedule
  • United States