LAS VEGAS, Nev. (April 17, 2019)—Homecare companies and their employees should be aware that many older adults have easy access to guns—even if some who are mentally impaired or easily agitated—and should discuss safety measures, Mary Ellen Conway, Chief Compliance Officer for US MED, said Tuesday.

Homecare talked to Conway on Tuesday at Medtrade Spring in Las Vegas, Nevada, after a study was released revealing that many older adults have access to firearms in their homes.

“This is something that most of those in the business know is an issue, but it periodically comes up anew, and it’s worth looking at,” she said.

The study, issued Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that 38.6% adults 65 and older included in their research reported a firearm in the home. Of those, almost a quarter—23.5%—reported storing at least one firearm unlocked and loaded.

The study’s authors wrote that access to firearms can endanger older people with cognitive impairment, their families and other visitors, and their caregivers.

“Those with dementia may … shoot themselves or others because of confusion or increased agitation and the associated aggression,” the study reads. “Recent publications have encouraged clinicians to discuss with patients their own or their aging loved ones’ access to firearms; however, little is known about the prevalence of household firearm ownership and storage practices among older adults."

The numbers were gathered from the 2016 Washington State Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System; the analysis included more than 5,000 older adults.

Most home health veterans are aware of the issue, Conway said, especially in regions where gun ownership is common. But new staff members may not be prepared to encounter an unlocked, loaded weapon.

She personally remembered the first time she encountered an unsecured firearm on a nightstand during a home visit in West Virginia, along with a local provider, who told her “guns are in every house I go into.”

If a weapon is of concern, she said, it should be noted on an intake report. Caregiving teams should also be aware of other safety factors, such as scheduling home visits in crime-prone areas for early mornings when activity is low and ensuring that clients are secure in their own home before and after visits.

“Ultimately, we need to keep people safe, and if they can’t be cared for at home and kept safe, then we have to deal with that,” Conway said.