Alcohol in nursing homes: How much is too much?

Well, they need not be.

Residents should be able to enjoy a safe level of alcohol, including wine, in aged care facilities, Dr Harry Nespolon, President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, told HelloCare.

Aged care residents should be able to enjoy their lives, he said, saying “they’re not in prison”.

“A little tipple is okey-dokey,” he continued.

“You’ve just got to be sensible about it.”

Dr Nespolon recommends a “common sense approach” and says residents should be carefully assessed before they are served alcohol in an aged care facility.

Ideally residents are free to make their own choices

Serving wine to residents in aged care facilities reflects a person-centered approach to care.

It means that residents are given the freedom to make the decision themselves about whether or not they wish to drink wine. The decision is not made for them by a management that places a ban on alcohol.

We must also be mindful of the fact that aged care facilities are homes. If a resident has had a glass of wine with their dinner every evening before they moved into care, they should be enabled to continue to carry on that routine while living in aged care.

Continuing familiar routines and rituals can help residents adjust to living in aged care facilities, and can also add to their quality of life while in care.

How much alcohol should be served?

Many aged care facilities do serve wine with lunch and dinner, and many also have happy hour once a week, but as with all alcohol service and consumption, there need to be some limitations and a careful approach.

Dr Nespolon said the amount of alcohol served in aged care facilities should reflect the government’s Alcohol Guidelines, which recommend that you should drink no more than two standard drinks a day.

What is a standard drink?

A standard glass of wine is 150ml, which amounts to about half a glass.

A standard full-strength beer is 285ml – a measure commonly known as a ‘middy’.

But Dr Nespolon noted that safe drinking levels differ for every person, and older people can be particularly sensitive to the effects of alcohol.

Older people often eat less, they may weigh less, and they may have cognitive changes that inhibit their ability to cope with alcohol consumption.

Some residents may be taking medication that has contraindications for consumption of alcohol.

Dr Nespolon said before residents are served an alcoholic drink, they should be carefully assessed for their ability to safely consume it alcohol.

But be wise to the risks

Dr Nespolon acknowledged there are some risks associated with serving alcohol in aged care facilities.

Of course, overconsumption of alcohol could be a problem, but that’s is hardly limited to nursing homes, Dr Nespolon said.

Consumption of alcohol could also make people become psychotic or violent, which could pose a risk to the safety of the resident, staff or visitors in the vicinity.

“So it’s not without its risk,” Mr Nespolon said, but if residents are appropriately assessed beforehand it should be perfectly OK, he said.

Please note: This image used to illustrate this article does not represent actual people or events. Image: iStock.

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  1. While this all sounds logical and appropriate I have to say that it does not align with the message that is being shared by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissionin their industry workshops. having just attended the Adelaide update the message was very very clear. The resident can make the choice of when and where and how much with no consideration of medical advice or family input or facility managemnet – so long as there is an “informed choice”. Take a look at the workshop Case Study C and put it into a residential context and that is the advice from the Commission.
    I am sugesting that providers are being told that an “appropriate assessment” by any third party has no relevence – to adopt such an approach will be contrary to Standard 1.
    I would be very keen for you to explore this further and see if the Commission will give clear direction.

    1. The department doesn’t like to clarify anything, that’s why homes suffer so badly upon inspection.interpretation is always an issue that nursing home staff and management have to deal with. Even things that haven’t changed in the standards are marked unmet this year and passed on previous.
      The system would be much easier and comparable if the government supplied all policies, procedures and required documents identical in all facilities.

  2. Can you tell me if staff in aged care need to do RSA – Provide Responsible Service of Alcohol if they are serving alcohol at meal times or happy hour ?

  3. I really become quite enraged that the dichotomy exists between the infantilism that the medical and nursing professionals attach and attribute to older adults in their facilities. I will not use the term “home or homes” as that implies that the “home owner” really have no rights afforded to others who live in rental units such as condos or apartments or houses and would by choice and right have a glass of wine with their meal or over cocktails with friends or their spouse/partner?
    Why do those in LTC suddenly become lesser than and continue the ageist attitudes we are fighting against.
    Public health who oversees the public good surely would not think of knocking on a private person’s door of their living accommodation and remove all liquor or spirits from their hone.
    What gives the operators of LTC the right to deny simple pleasures afforded to all others except captive renters?
    If the model of care changes to the proper and tight model of social care and all nursing and medical staff were relegated to the background, I believe older adults and their families/caregivers would be much happier and in control of their lives. Right now they are lesser than prisoners who are incarcerated because they were or are a threat to society.
    Time to totally reform LTC or see a further decline in renters and staff.
    Your country is no different than most except for the more socially progressive countries.

  4. Unfortunately some aged care homes are owned by religious groups who impose their own belief system on residents.

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