What can you do to care for an alcoholic aging parent, who is otherwise fairly fit?

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My boyfriend’s mother is 78 years old. She is actually in pretty good shape--she drives, goes to church, goes grocery shopping, bathes and dresses herself, can still cook (although she is often too tired to), and maintains basic household chores. She prefers to spend her days watching television or reading, so she’s not in the best of physical fitness, and she walks with a shuffle rather than picking up her feet. She’s lucid, but forgetful, and sometimes seems to have a little trouble with good judgment, though thankfully in innocuous ways.

The trouble begins at night--usually around 5 pm or so, when the drinking begins. First, a couple of classes of wine or so, then she starts the bourbon. She drinks herself into a drunken stupor every night. She refuses to give up the upstairs bedroom she shared with her husband, so she staggers up to bed in varying states of drunkenness every night. Sometimes she makes it upstairs and gets herself to bed just fine. Other times, she falls at some point on the way up the stairs. Once, were it not for my boyfriend, she would have fallen backwards, head-over-heels from a little more than midway up the stairs. Sometimes, she gets upstairs fine, but in her drunken state, she falls down in her bedroom or in the bathroom, and can't get back up--whether from drunkenness, or weakness, we don't really know. She is often bruised or scratched, her glasses are broken, or her room is all torn apart--all tell-tale signs that she's taken a tumble. But she's as likely to deny/not remember the fall, as not.

On Saturday night, she called my boyfriend (thankfully we were staying there for the night) to ask for help. When he got upstairs, she was lying, half-naked, on the floor, with bedding, a lamp and some other things on top of her. We have no idea how she even managed to get the phone...

It’s a small town, where jobs are scarce, so my boyfriend –who is her primary caregiver, works part-time far from home. The stress of worrying about her is really taking its toll. He’s sometimes irritable and abrupt in his dealings with her. He’s depressed and he feels trapped. Clearly he’s getting burnout from this arrangement. But his three sisters (two of whom live and work nearby) are too busy with their own lives to help with her care or with looking for options for care. Since they only see her drunkenness on holidays or at family functions, (and at those times, Mom is on pretty good behavior, so it’s not too bad), it’s seen as a cute little eccentricity on mom’s part. They generally shrug their shoulders, and accuse him of being overly dramatic, or tell him to move out because it’s not his responsibility to care for her, or it will be her own fault if she falls and is badly injured—or worse. They chastise him for not being “nice” enough to her when they hear him snap at her; and they become defensive when asked for help. While I don’t condone the abruptness he displays sometimes, I understand the stress he’s under because I’ve been there to witness many of the things that happen when no one else is around.

I’ve been looking around the web, to see if I can find any resources for elderly parents who are in pretty good shape for the most part, but who require care at night when no one is around. I know this may be more of an alcoholism issue than a standard elder care question. But since I haven’t found anything so far, I wanted to see if anyone else has been in a similar situation and how you might be handling it. Mom wants to continue to live independently. But for her safety, and for my boyfriend's sanity, we could really use some help.

Thanks very much.

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Thank you very much for sharing your ideas and your prayers. The truth is that Mom knows and acknowledges that she's an alcoholic. She's just not willing to give up the drinking or to make any changes to her behavior. Conversations with her about it while she is sober have been met with, "You may be right" or "Yes, I know". She's spent the night on the floor because she was alone in the house, but it doesn't affect her behavior. She doesn't want to change, so there's not much to be done there.

Thankfully, the family was able to agree to get a medic-alert type service, and they are working on some other safety related things around the house for when she's there alone. That will help with some of my boyfriend's worry about her hurting herself when she's there by herself. It's a difficult situation; but some open conversation with the siblings has come about, and I guess we'll just have to take it one step at a time.
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I guess I can share about a friend of ours whose mind was really brilliant at one time. He was an alcoholic, but did not see it as a big problem either. We operated a store at the time, and had beer as an alcoholic beverage among other cold sodas, and etc. My husband and I over a period of time knew he had a problem, but did not know how to help him other than to talk with him. We felt responsible, but he would just go buy it somewhere else, which he did often anyways. It got to where he could not hardly eat, and eventually ended up with liver disease after getting back on the hard stuff, which we did not have any of in our store. He died not too many yrs. after that. Alcoholics, which it seems like your boyfriend's mother may very well may be, can stay in denial for quite some time until something drastic happens and then their eyes seem to get opened and they want to do something to change. The feet shuffling, forgetfulness, and not having good judgement can be signs of other things, but it is more likely that she is an alcoholic and needs to get into some good counseling. What about some people at church? Is there anyone there that the son could talk to that might be close enough with his mom that could or would talk to her? Most churches have some type of group that reaches out to people like this.
Unfortunately, cases like this will end up with the person hitting a certain place before they see they need help. Lets pray; Lord, help this woman come to a place where she can be set free from this stronghold. We know that this is just being used as a bandaid for a greater hurt. I know, because I did the same thing. I was hurting within, and alcohol or drugs whatever was handiest seemed to help ease the pain for a little while anyways. But You showed me Jesus that I could be set free from the pain if I would just give it to you. Show this church she is going to Lord what You want them to do in this. Expose the deeper pain within her, or at least let it be revealed to those around her.so You can complete the good work that You have begun in her. I speak to this mountain as You have instructed us to do in Mark 11: 23-24, with the authority given us in the name of Jesus Christ, and command it to be removed. I also ask Father that Your infinite wisdom and grace would be poured out in this situation for all those involved. Help her to see herself as You see her Lord. I ask this to be done for Your glory, and that they might know the Lord Jesus Christ Your Son, as their Lord and Savior.
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Your boyfriends mother is an alcoholic. Your boyfriend is enabling her by doing nothing to address her condition. Alcohol kills brain cells and aging lessens the brain to produce new brain cells. She needs detox and rehab. Once clean and sober can she be medically accessed for any age related conditions. Why does she need to drink so much? Try to convine her to get help with her alcohol addiction.
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Thank you, jeannegibbs. I agree with you that this is a very stressful situation. It's hard to see her in that condition; and it's even harder to watch him in this despair.
I don't really know what the answer is, since she really manages just fine throughout the day. She is forgetful sometimes, she repeats things a lot, and sometimes she does things that just leave you wondering how she decided that it made sense. But frankly, she's a lot better than many people I've seen. She wants to stay where she is, and she feels that she's doing just fine, that there's no problem. And everyone else seems to be of the opinion that she's not going to change, she's happy, and he should just "be nice to her". I'm concerned that the stress over time of dealing with the problem and seeing her in this state is taking it's toll.

Thank you for taking the time to respond.

Best wishes to you.
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She walks with a shuffle, she is forgetful, and displays poor judgment ... those could all be early signs of dementia, or I suppose they could be related to the alcohol consumption.

Does she feel she has a problem? Does she remember the falls? Is she willing to see a healthcare provider? Does she want to remain independently living in her own home badly enough so she might be motivated to address the alcoholism?

You can probably get a caregiver to come in for whatever hours you want. Someone could come in from 5 to 10 or from 9 to midnight, for example. Could mother afford this? What would you want such a person to do? Keep her company while she drinks herself into a fog, and then help her up the stairs to bed?

It doesn't sound like she needs much help during day, at least not so far. Is that right?

Does her son need to live there for financial reasons?

If Mom likes her life the way it is, if she doesn't see a problem, and if she accepts the risks inherent in stumbling up the stairs drunk, then I'm not sure what the two of you can do, except perhaps attend Alanon meetings for your own well being. This arrangement sounds way too stressful and too enabling of Mother's self-destructive behavior. I'm not sure that living with her is doing anyone much good.
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