Recently, I received an email from a man telling me that he'd searched the Web and wasn't finding information about elderly people, particularly those with dementia and alcoholism. Finally, he found me, because I've written about the issue a couple of times. He told me some specifics and I thought it was an interesting case. I was able to give him some clues and hopefully things are working out a little better for him. I know he was relieved to talk about it.
The man's father has Alzheimer's (or at least they think it is Alzheimer's), but he is alcoholic and the son feels the father needs to detoxify his body. However, the detox facility wouldn't take him because of the Alzheimer's.
I asked the writer if he was sure his father has Alzheimer's and not alcohol induced dementia. This is an important distinction, because a detox facility would likely have worked with people who had alcoholic dementia and think nothing of it. It's the Alzheimer's diagnosis that scares them.
I also asked if his dad is a veteran. The veteran's facilities are used to dealing with alcoholic veterans, with and without dementia. Yes, he said, his dad is a veteran. He hadn't thought of that angle and he said he'd check with the local veteran's center.
My third suggestion was, if all of this failed, try to get his father's doctor to have his dad hospitalized. With proper care and medication the hospital could detox him under medical care, without too much misery.
Obviously, there's much more to the story. Detoxifying is just the start for this family. But, still, I felt good. Aside from feeling that I helped someone, I felt good about this exchange because it gave me one more reason to get the subject out into the light again.
There are many aging people with alcohol and drug problems. Some are obvious, as was the case with this gentleman. There was enough alcoholism in the family that the son was eager to help others, and was hoping for a forum of some kind to discuss this issue. He knows there are many families looking for help.
Families Anonymous is a good organization that can help with support. But medical support is also needed. Doctors need to start looking for signs of alcohol and/or drug abuse. Our Vietnam veterans are aging, and these veterans were not given the mental health care that the government is at least trying to provide today's returning war veterans.
Add to that that the fact that Vietnam veterans came back to a hostile country - no hero's welcome for them. Many of these people have carried awful burdens with them for decades, and have tried to numb the pain with alcohol and drugs.
Alcoholism is a disease. Elders who suffer from alcoholism need help getting off of it so they don't go through inhumane withdrawal in a hospital or nursing home, without anyone even knowing the alcoholism is there and that it needs to be treated. If someone with Alzheimer's or other dementia - alcohol induced or not - needs help, we need medical facilities that can deal with this. This gentleman's father was not that unusual and our society will be seeing more situations like this as time passes.
Awareness of this issue, as with most unpleasant issues, is a key factor. When doctors can learn to spot a functioning alcoholic; when hospitals know what to "do with" an Alzheimer's afflicted alcoholic; when professionals can compassionately treat the alcoholic and the alcoholic's family, true progress will be made. And people like this gentleman won't have to feel they have a unique burden they must carry alone.
Published On: January 28, 2008