One of the most difficult processes a person can make is deciding when it is too risky for you or an aging loved one to engage in certain activities. A recent study including 104 participants, published in The Gerontologist, examined viewpoints on reducing access to potentially dangerous activities for older patients showing physical or cognitive decline.
The study was conducted online with focus groups and individual interviews with older adults who both drove and owned firearms. Family members of older adults, gerontology professionals, and firearm retailers/instructors were also included. The study aimed to understand whether reducing driving and firearm access are similar decisions when an older adult can no longer safely perform the activity. Study author Dr. Emmy Betz stated, “there’s an urgent need for resources and planning in advance to help reduce firearm injuries and deaths among older adults, while still respecting and promoting their independence, autonomy and rights. This is especially important when there’s a high risk of them harming themselves or someone else due to cognitive decline.” The study recommended creating a firearm life plan to facilitate the acceptance and adjustment process for older adults faced with giving up personally meaningful activities.
The study showed that car and firearm access are both points of strong psychological attachment for people who perform these activities regularly. Many participants believed that a reduction in driving or firearm use should be based on declining ability and not mainly chronological age.
The study also revealed other key beliefs. Participants viewed firearms as an essential lifelong tool for protecting oneself as one ages. Most participants believed it is best to let trusted individuals such as family and healthcare professionals) guide discussions around limiting access and advance planning.