Did you know elderly people are statistically more likely to commit suicide than any other age group? I didn’t either, until I read Marshall Kapp’s “Geriatric Patients, Firearms, and Physicians”, recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate for elderly people is 14.6 per 100,000 in population compared with a rate of 11.4 for all Americans. The most common method for committing suicide among the elderly is by firearm. From 2005 to 2010, firearms were the cause of 72% of suicides among Americans aged 65 years or older. Firearms accounted for just 51% among all age groups. Kapp says the presence of a firearm in an elderly person’s home is a concern because of the mental disorders that plague that group of patients. Dementia, delusions, memory problems, and depression can all lead to a higher risk of gun-related deaths—particularly suicide. To prevent these unfortunate events from happening, Kapp recommends primary care providers inquire about the presence of firearms in their patients’ homes. He believes physicians have a legal right to do so and cites Florida law that states physicians can inquire about firearms if they believe they pose a threat to the patient or someone else. Once the presence of a firearm is documented, Kapp recommends providers assess the risk of a gun-related injury. If the provider believes the risk to be high, he or she should alert family members or care givers, who would then either remove the firearm or unload it and lock it away. Kapp equates removing the patient’s access to a firearm to eliminating driving or cooking when it is believed to be unsafe. He also says family members or care givers who choose not to remove the firearm in the face of a clear risk should be considered perpetrators of adult abuse or neglect. Kapp’s comments will likely stir up debate among people on either side of the gun debate. Does it seem reasonable to take guns away from people who are not of sound mind to operate them safely? Share your thoughts in the comments section.