Keeping Alcohol at an Assisted Living Facility


I was hoping things would calm down in dad’s Assisted Living Facility after the altercation I wrote about last week.  For now, that seems to have “blown over” and there aren’t any immediate changes that I can see.

Because of the altercation last week, dad’s companions were all encouraged to visit during the hour prior to Happy Hour and to accompany him to the activity room at the right time. I didn’t want to let him arrive late and be frustrated again.

The management at his ALF assured me that the Activities director “always” goes around right before Happy Hour to round up the residents who usually show up. However, on Monday I received an email from one companion that she sat with dad until almost 4 o’clock when she decided it must be time for Happy Hour. She approached the front desk and asked what time it would start, and was told it had started at 3:30. She then took dad to Happy Hour where he arrived just before it was too late.

The companion who usually shops for dad visited him on Tuesday. She checks his room, cleans the kitchen and makes note of any snacks or supplies that he might need. Then she also gets him to walk a bit, play some checkers and ended up taking him to Happy Hour before she left.

This week, however, she noted something she had not seen before. There was a bottle of Johnny Walker in dad’s kitchen! Where did it come from? She emailed me, but I had no idea. She asked the activities director and he didn’t know either. She wasn’t sure he was allowed to keep it there, but I was sure I had never seen a policy against it. Still, I figured I had better check.

First I emailed my son and the other companions. I learned that dad had asked my son for a bottle of scotch. My son saw no reason not to, and brought his grandfather the scotch. I wished he had asked me first, as I could imagine there might be see some repercussions from the ALF if they found out about it. Of course, since the companion had already asked the Activities Director about it, the cat was already out of the bag.

Yesterday I telephoned the Director of the ALF and we spoke briefly. I had 2 questions for her. First, could they test dad for a UTI as several people suggested such an infection might be responsible for dad’s behavior. She immediately dismissed that idea as she said the altercation was a one-time event. She was ready to move on to the next issue.

It seems she already knew about the scotch and was quite unhappy about it. I asked whether there was a written policy on residents keeping alcohol in their rooms. She did not respond directly to that question, but rather focused on the fact that his doctor’s orders were for no more than 2 drinks a day. And, the law requires them to follow doctor’s orders.

I said he never drinks more than 2 drinks a day. In fact, he usually drinks only one drink a day and sometimes he puts half of it in his refrigerator to finish later. I didn’t think he wanted the scotch so he could drink more. I thought he wanted it so he would have more control over his own life. He will still drink only one drink a day. (Though in fact I had not spoken to dad about this – I do know that I never saw him drink more than that.)

She became quite adamant about it so I asked how much he had already used from the bottle since he got it on Sunday. She said she would look in his room and then get back to me. She said I should wait for her return call as it would just be “5 minutes”.

I waited 20 minutes and then called her office. I was told she was on another line with the physician and she would “call me right back”. I waited another 40 minutes and became increasingly frustrated with the wait. It was a beautiful day and the forecast was for the next few days to be colder and rainy. I wanted to walk on the beach!

Finally I decided to just go for my walk anyway. I would have my cell phone though I wasn’t sure I would be able to hear that over the sounds of the surf. Sure enough as I was walking along I heard music and then realized it was my cell phone. I answered and was pleased to find that I could carry on a conversation even there at the beach.

The director found almost no scotch had been removed from the bottle yet. It was about what I expected. She then said that if he doesn’t drink anything in the next few weeks she would like to remove it from his room anyway. I said no, I would rather they leave it if he doesn’t drink or if he has only a little as it gives him a sense of control over his own life.

After a bit of talking around that decision, she said she would have to call his doctor and have his orders changed. She has to have a paper trail to cover what is actually happening. I said that sounded fine to me and we left it at that.

I also asked the companions to keep an eye out to see if dad seems to be consuming more alcohol. I doubt he will, but if he does I want to know right away. As I said to the director, dad is not an alcoholic, nor has he even consumed 2 drinks in a day in all the time I have spent with him. Maybe when he was much younger with his friends he might have, but I never saw it. (And I do have some experience with excessive drinking as a problem because I worked in public health areas that included treating substance abuse patients.)

While I had hoped things would be calmer after last week’s altercation, instead, that conflict may have caused dad to decide that he needed his own supply of scotch in case he gets to Happy Hour too late to get a drink. He may have memory problems, but when something is important, he doesn’t forget. That is just my opinion. For when I asked dad about Happy Hour last weekend, he didn’t remember any problems at all – or at least he didn’t admit to any.

I understand how the Director of an Assisted Living Facility might be concerned about alcohol use of a “generic resident”. For that reason, I thought they would have a written policy on whether residents were permitted to keep or use alcohol in their rooms. However, I had never seen such a policy and that was why I asked about it. If a resident were an alcoholic, I could see why they wouldn’t want him to have access to his own bottle. But then, I would bet, this facility would not accept an alcohol as a resident.

Another possible issue is if a resident is taking medications or has a diagnosis that would prohibit the use of alcohol. But again, it seems to me that the policy should be written and spell out those circumstances in which a resident may or may not keep alcohol in their rooms.

Dad is in his mid-90’s now and I hate to see anyone add restrictions to what he can do.  He can’t still drive.  He doesn’t get out to eat very often, especially in the winter, and he doesn’t remember how to use his computer.  I am glad to help him maintain at least a little independence if I can.

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About letstalkaboutfamily

I am a retired and the primary caregiver for my father. I have children and grandchildren. This blog is an attempt to connect with others who are also trying to care for a family member and share ideas and experiences. I hope you will let me know what worked for you if you had an experience similar to mine. The main issues I am going to talk about are elder care, death and dying, assisted living, family relationships and hoarders and hoarding. Other topics will come up as I address the issues around the care of my father and the relationship with other family members.
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13 Responses to Keeping Alcohol at an Assisted Living Facility

  1. Joy Johnston says:

    I’ve read articles about some facilities that outright ban the use of alcohol. I think some places might worry about liability if a resident who can’t have alcohol gets access to another resident’s room and takes their alcohol. Some facilities fear it could lead to more behavior issues, but other facilities found just the opposite. When they allowed their residents to enjoy small indulgences like a glass of sherry or a couple of pieces of chocolate, the residents were in better spirits and more compliant. Obviously, one has to take into consideration conditions like alcohol abuse, diabetes, drug interactions, etc. but certainly it sounds like your father should be able to enjoy a glass of scotch.

    • I agree liability could be an issue, but they seemed more concerned about having a paper trail to show they are following doctor’s orders. I am glad that for now the issue seems to be solved. It is just one more thing to keep an eye on when a parent is in assisted living! Thanks for your comment.

  2. Terry says:

    I hope it all gets worked out for peace of mind

  3. boomer98053 says:

    Wow – I’m so glad you’re standing up for your dad. As a former long-term care ombudsman (advocate for residents in ALFs, etc.) I can tell you that your dad has a right to use his alcohol – regardless of how alcohol may or may not affect his health or not mix well with his medications.
    I don’t know how it is in the state in which your father lives but I know for a fact that in Washington State your father has the right – guaranteed by law – to refuse doctor’s orders,e.g., medications, alcohol restrictions, etc.
    Your father is in his mid-90’s and like you, I agree that someone living in long-term care needs to feel that he has control over some aspects of their lives. SO much has been taken from him given his need to move to an ALF. As long as honoring his right to drink doesn’t affect other residents’ rights to live a dignified and quality life (you’ve already said the drinking itself does not make his violent or ornery) he needs to be given the choice to drink, or not to drink. As you already mentioned, he is not one to tie one on so how delightful that should he want a cocktail in his room while watching the news, he can do so.
    One more thing – the fact that the director dismissed your request for a UTI test is irresponsible. UTIs are rampant in long-term care facilities and are THE most common malady as well. How unfortunate it would be if needed treatment didn’t occur just because the director decided it wasn’t necessary. The test for a UTI is so very simple, if she doesn’t have time to arrange for someone to do it, she’s not doing the job she was hired to do; a job for which your father’s money pays her salary.
    I sincerely hope all calms down for you and your father. If you need to find a local LTC ombudsman to be a physical presence to make sure your dad’s rights are honored, go to: http://www.ltcombudsman.org. You can click on the state where he lives and see a list of nearby contacts.

    • Thanks, Irene. I wondered what the law required as to residents’s rights. I googled it and didn’t find anything about the rights of residents to drink in their rooms. I may ask one of the companions to check dad for a UTI as 2 are retired nurses. I did call the ombuds person in the past so I have their number at home. They followed up when I called about dad missing some medications and that seems to have lit a candle under the ALF on that issue. I suspect that since I asked for the written policy, they know I will not let them push us around on the alcohol issue. It is good to know the Washington law since it may be the same all over. I can ask the ombudsman about that if I need to. You are a great resource! Thanks so much!

  4. jmgoyder says:

    The rules and regulations are getting so ridiculous!

  5. Pingback: Dad Has a Fat Lip and Puffy Cheeks | Let's Talk About Family

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