Firearm access and dementia: A qualitative study of reported behavioral disturbances and responses

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2021 Sep 29. doi: 10.1111/jgs.17496. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: Cognitive impairment and behavioral changes associated with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias (ADRDs) can impair safe firearm handling ability, an issue that can be challenging for ADRD caregivers to address. In this qualitative analysis, we sought to explore behavioral disruptions that raise concerns about firearm access in dementia and how caregivers react and respond.

Methods: Secondary qualitative analysis using data from semi-structured, one-on-one interviews originally conducted as part of a study to develop firearm safety educational materials for ADRD caregivers. Interviewees were English-speaking adults (≥18 years) from three stakeholder groups: ADRD caregivers (professional or informal), medical professionals (geriatricians, neurologists), and firearm professionals (retailers, range employees, instructors). For secondary analysis, transcripts of interviews were recoded and analyzed after an inductive-deductive thematic analysis process.

Results: Among 24 participants, 17 (70%) were female and 20 (83%) white; 13 (54%) had personal or professional experience with ADRD caregiving; and 5 (21%) had a firearm affiliation. Major themes were: (1) behavioral disturbances that make caregivers concerned about firearm access; (2) caregiver emotional responses to and difficulties associated with these disturbances; and (3) caregiver actions (planned or actual) to limit firearms access.

Conclusion: Various behavioral disturbances and emotional burdens can trigger ADRD caregiver concern about firearms access, but strategies exist for restricting or safeguarding firearms in the home. Study findings suggest a need for caregiver support on this topic, including counseling by healthcare providers, advance planning for older firearm owners, and development of community resources.

Keywords: behavioral disturbances; caregivers; cognitive impairment; dementia; firearms.