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Why every nursing home should host Alcoholics Anonymous meetings

August 19, 2009
by ebarbera
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Alcoholism is not just a problem of youth. According to an 8/17/09 report in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 14% of men and 3% of women age 65 and older admitted to binge drinking (5 drinks or more on one occasion within the last month). I frequently see residents with lifelong addiction problems in the nursing home, and often their sobriety began with their admission to the facility. Early sobriety, particularly when dictated by outside forces, can be very difficult, leaving residents vulnerable to the underlying depression they were self-medicating with alcohol. Many residents with long-term sobriety but no Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) recovery have behavior problems that could be successfully addressed in the meetings, as do mentally ill residents with a dual diagnosis of substance abuse.

Hospitals, churches, and community centers around the country regularly host AA and other 12-Step meetings, but I've yet to hear of a nursing home that does. I think they all should, for the following reasons:

· AA meetings establish a positive peer group for potentially difficult residents.

· Residents take responsibility for their own behavior, reducing the need for staff monitoring.

· Residents have an additional source of support from the group and from each other.

· Residents have a way to connect with the outside world, reducing their sense of confinement.

· For residents expected to be discharged, a connection to AA meetings and community members in the nursing home facilitates their transition back to the community.

· Staff members have a resource to which they can direct their residents in need.

· Staff members, some of whom may suffer from alcoholism themselves or in their families, become aware of a source of support, even if they don’t attend meetings in the facility.

· The nursing home increases its visibility and potential referral base in the community.

· There is no charge for AA meetings; in fact, the meetings often pay a small rent for the meeting space.

· AA meetings are easy to establish. Just contact AA, let them know you have a meeting space to offer, and they will do the rest.

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I work as a volunteer at the main AA office in my state. I felt entirely helpless when i received a call from a case worker at a nursing home who said she had a client there who wondered if we could send a meeting to the facility. Of course, it takes AA members themselves to decide to do this anywhere, and enough of them to show up, so I couldn't help.
My solution offered is this: Ask your local AA office to begin a Committee for this purpose. For instance, we have the "Joint Correctional Facilities" Committee where there is organization of groups being sent to jails and hospitals. If we can care for our sick and our offenders, we should certainly care for our elderly.

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ebarbera

Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed...