Alcohol and the Elderly

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Charlie has recently undergone a personality change. I don't know whether to call it an epiphany or something less remarkable.

Over the past two years Charlie has turned to wine to drown his sorrows over his loss of mobility and memory, consuming up to two bottles of wine per night. The problem had reached a troublesome level, and had resulted in an increase in the dementia and worse, frequent falls.

After a bad fall in March I finally told him that, if he didn't cut back on the alcohol intake, I was not bringing any more alcoholic beverages into our home. You see, he can no longer drive and he has no way of getting it unless I bring it to him. I have, up to this point, been sympathetic to his problem, feared the detoxification process that might be necessary, and did not want to incur his wrath over pulling his crutch out from under him. Mea culpa—but sometimes you have to choose your battles.

He mulled my threat over in his mind for a couple of days and suddenly dropped his consumption to two glasses of wine per night. I watched carefully for signs of delirium tremors and noticed nothing. For a couple of nights he had some difficulty sleeping. That was resolved by a cup of chamomile tea and an Advil PM at bedtime. He only needed those sleep aids for about three days.

Since that time I have been sneakily pouring his wine glass half full of ginger ale and half wine.He hasn't even noticed the difference. This has gone on for two months and only once did he remark that his wine tasted a little sweeter than usual. I do have to be careful that I pour his wine before he can get to the refrigerator and pour himself a glass of a full-strength elixir.

The severe reduction in alcohol consumption has had other benefits. Charlie now goes to bed, with my help, at 10 p.m.—two or three hours earlier than before. He always said he wasn't sleepy at 10 p.m. when I went to my room to read for an hour before turning out my light. That was just an excuse for him to stay up and continue drinking before retiring—and that was when he was most likely to fall getting himself to bed.

Furthermore, instead of staying in bed until early afternoon, he is now ready to get up by 10 a.m., and one morning he surprised me at 8:30 a.m. This means we are now able to have an occasional outing and his meal schedule has become normal. When he was arising so late in the day, he only ate two meals; the result of that was a ten-pound weight loss. And at 6'3" and 185 pounds, that was something he didn't need. His appetite has now improved and his disposition is much cheerier.

True to my word, there are now only two bottles of wine per week in the house and, with a little luck, I may be able to get him completely weaned off, fooling him with pure ginger ale.

I am hoping this new regimen will slow the advancement of Charlie's dementia. It will certainly make it less likely that he will have a serious fall; falls are one of the biggest causes of death in the elderly. For now, things are looking optimistic.

Marlis describes herself as a “Gramma who loves technology and has a lot to say.” She blogs about whatever catches her interest: food, books, family and more. For AgingCare.com, she writes about the issues facing the elderly and her experiences caring for her husband, Charlie, who suffers from dementia.

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47 Comments

My father died in 2007. He always blamed my mom's memory issues and paranoia on the fact that she was drinking a bottle (possibly more) of wine a day. She was pretty nasty when she had too much. We hired in home 24 hour care for my mom after his death (she was 72). If anyone suggested that she curb or stop drinking it would cause Armaggedon. The care givers, my sister and myself were going to swap out non-alcoholic wine with the real stuff in order to get a handle on it. We bought a few bottles and hid them in the cupboard. Before we had a chance to swap them out, she found them. In one day she went from drinking at least a bottle of wine a day to the grape juice stuff. We were stunned. She was soooo proud that SHE had picked these up at the store. (She wasn't driving.) She said if she know they were that good, she would have been drinking them for years. This was another fabrication, because, she made my father's last years absolutely miserable with her drinking. She would get very angry if he or anyone else suggested her cutting down or stopping. For one thing, I don't think she could remember exactly how many drinks she was actually consuming. I guess she wasn't really addicted because there were no identifiable withdrawal signs. After a year and a half we arranged for her to live in an AL memory care facility. We continued to purchase the NA wine for her for about 6 years. After a while the full bottles started collecting, so we stopped buying it. She will be 80 this July. This may be an alternative for your situation. God Bless.
I am a nurse and had a pt with dementia who was also an alcoholic. This story has many similarities. Pt's son came up with a great idea. He had wine labels made and then went out and bought alcohol free wine by the case and put the wine labels over the one indicating it was free of alcohol. Pt never new the difference and he was much safer when he was left alone at night.
Based on my experience the medical community has little desire or capacity to deal with this issue. I can't blame them in some ways, since it is self-destructive behavior, however, there are other self-destructive behaviors such as smoking and poor diet that seem to have a better chance of getting addressed and the patient being provided some help and remedy.