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Keep the spirits up for the old folk

YOGIN DEVAN Devan is a media consultant and social commentator. Share your comments with him on:

A FIERCELY independent and mightily proud friend in his 70s who lived on his own began showing signs that the time had come for him to move to a retirement home.

He had some serious health issues with a steady decline in overall strength and mobility.

Loneliness and depression had also set in following the death of his female companion, who cooked tasty meals for him when he visited for long chats while holding hands and looking into her eyes. My friend was all too aware that he could not continue living on his own and that he required assisted care. He had the financial means to become part of a senior living community with opportunities to socialise and facilities for medical emergencies.

However, he was reluctant to take residence at the retirement complex that had been identified as most suitable in terms of its material comforts and opportunities for new friendships.

Initially, he would not give a clear reason for his unwillingness to relocate. After some prodding and poking, I realised it was because he would be denied the freedom to have his nightcap (or three) that was keeping him from making the change. Also, he could not occasionally have friends around for drinks and some back-slapping like he did in his apartment.

So, rather than give up his nightly tipple and move into a retirement home, my friend continued living on his own. A combination of undernourishment, seclusion and sadness took its toll on his health. He passed away earlier this year.

Most retirement homes have a no-alcohol policy. They cite as reasons the increased health dangers of alcohol consumption in seniors, and the potential for substance abuse in the elderly. It is true that even small amounts of alcohol can cause problems in some alcohol-dependent older people living in care homes. These problems include confusion, falls, injuries and dangerous interactions with medicines.

However, for some older people, having a few drinks is part of everyday life. Does moving into a care home have to get in the way of this? Small amounts of alcohol have been shown to increase happiness, friendliness, and pleasant and carefree feelings.

There have been experiments where older people in nursing homes were given either alcohol or fruit juice. Those who received alcohol were more socially active, alert, friendly and communicative. Alcohol seemed to increase morale and reduce worrying, and difficulties in falling asleep. The relationship between older people and staff improved.

I know of many senior people living on their own who do not pose a danger to themselves or others through their regular drinking habits. Having a glass of wine with a meal is a pleasure that many enjoy. A peg or two of fine whisky takes away the aches and pains of the old bones, and gives a good night’s sleep.

Why should seniors be robbed of these simple pleasures the moment they enter aged care? After all, they’re not in prison. Haven’t they worked a whole life to be able to deserve some indulgences in a paidfor retirement complex? We must also not ignore the fact that aged care facilities are homes. If a resident has had a glass of wine with dinner every evening before moving into care, he or she should be allowed to continue that routine.

Of course, overconsumption of alcohol could be a problem, but that’s hardly limited to nursing homes. If residents are appropriately assessed beforehand, it should be perfectly okay. And a clause in the contract can easily provide for problem drinkers to be evicted.

Clinical research has shown that moderate drinking can protect against heart disease. And people who drink one to two servings of whisky every day halve their chances of having a stroke in old age. I must caution here that the operative word is “moderate”. It’s safe to say that alcohol is both a tonic and a poison. The difference lies mostly in the dose. While moderate drinking could have some health benefits, heavy drinking is a major cause of preventable death. My sympathy lies with those older folk who are responsible drinkers but must stick to Milo or Horlicks at night because booze is banned in the retirement home.

Perhaps those who manage assisted care places would consider taking an enlightened decision to buck the trend and allow alcoholic drinks for those who can handle them responsibly. After all, it seems so unfair to suddenly take away a social pastime from seniors who have been drinking their whole lives. I am aware that friends and relatives smuggle booze for residents at retirement homes. Now these are grown adults and should be treated as such.

Alcohol should not be totally banned – and can be monitored. You should feel like you’re on a permanent vacation at a retirement complex. There should be no need to sneak the nip bottle into bedrooms.





African News Agency