Alcohol, Alzheimer's, and A Neighbor
September 13, 2018 11:24 AM   Subscribe

There is a sweet, elderly lady who lives in our neighborhood who occasionally stops by, has some water, chit chats, borrows a bottle of wine, and goes on her merry way. This used to happen once every month or so. It has happened three days in a row this week. What is our best course of action?

Our neighbor, a few blocks over, Alice, is very sweet. My husband grew up in this neighborhood and Alice was friends with his mother. Alice is in her mid-eighties with a touch of dementia - she remembers my husband, vaguely that he is married and that we have children. Historically, she would come by once every month or so during her daily walks, have some water and say hello to us, and maybe every month or more would ask to borrow a bottle of wine for her luncheon with friends. We always accommodated her and started keeping a stock of "Alice Bottles" in the house. Alice would almost always come back with a replacement bottle of wine for us.

This past week, Alice has come over three days in a row, each day more upset that her husband Jim, was losing his mind and asking for a bottle of wine to help calm herself. It sounds like Jim's dementia is further along than Alice's. From what we can tell from Alice, their mid 40s daughter comes to check on them a few times a week - helps with household duties (laundry, dishes) puts out pills for everyone, and is aware of the deteriorating condition of her parents.

We gave her wine two days in a row, and on the third day she called us to ask if we could drive her to the store to buy some wine. We were fortunately out at the time and were able to deflect.

I'm worried about Alice and Jim - and want to reach out to the daughter to let her know that this is going on - not as a judgement on Alice, the daughter, or Jim - but just to make sure she has all the information when taking care of her parents (especially considering they may be on medications we are unaware of).

What is the best way to frame that conversation without making it sound blaming/judgmental on the daughter or Alice? We are perfectly happy to keep Alice in wine, but a bottle a day habit seems a bit much given her age and mental state.
posted by Suffocating Kitty to Human Relations (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Important question - does the daughter know that you've been giving her wine all this time? If so - maybe next time you see she's over there, pop over, take the daughter aside and tell her "just FYI, this is going on, do with that info what you will." Or even tell Alice that you wanted to get her daughter a present of some wine too, and you wanted to talk to the daughter next time she's over "to see what wine she likes" - and then when the daughter comes by say "actually we just wanted to let you know this was going on".

If the daughter does not know that you've been loaning Alice wine, however, she may be pretty alarmed to learn this (she may also have no problem, but she may also have an issue). If she doesn't know, I would actually stop giving Alice wine until you've spoken with the daughter first. Maybe in that scenario, you can tell Alice that you're fresh out - but that you also want to get their daughter a present of some wine too the next time she's over, so maybe you can all go get wine together? And then take the daughter aside.

I don't think that it would be considered "judgemental" if you just gave the daughter a heads-up that Alice was asking for more wine than was typical. I'm actually more concerned with whether or not Alice's daughter knows you've been giving Alice the occasional bottle in the first place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:00 PM on September 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

While you're getting it sorted, it might be nice to get a couple of bottles of nonalcoholic wine (which is a thing) to have on hand, so you can lessen any guilt or uncomfortable feelings associated with giving it to her.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:05 PM on September 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

Daughter, this is Suffocating Kitty, listen, I feel awkward, but I'd rather make sure you have information than not. I'd like to tell you a story about your Mom.

Alice may be borrowing wine all over the neighborhood, may have a medical condition that precludes alcohol, and there could be much more to the scenario, or not. Daughter needs to know. Your tone and your comments about how fond you are of Alice will go a long way to help with awkwardness.

It is difficult and exhausting to care for dementia patients. If you can offer to take over a meal once a week, do laundry, or visit and have a glass of wine with Alice, it might be a great kindness.
posted by theora55 at 12:10 PM on September 13, 2018 [34 favorites]

Another aspect that I think the daughter should know is that Alice has gone from asking for wine to drink with friends to asking for wine "to calm herself."

The tone is your post is very kind and caring, and I can't imagine that won't come through when you talk to the daughter. Does your husband know her more? You say he grew up in the neighborhood and his mother was friends with Alice.
posted by FencingGal at 12:24 PM on September 13, 2018 [20 favorites]

Do contact the daughter. As a daughter of a person with dementia, who did not live with her, I was unaware of lots of what was going on with my mother until neighbors told me.

Though I don't know how you'd bring this up in conversation, I would also suggest that Alice get tested for a UTI, as these are very common in older people and can make them confused, manic, etc while not presenting as a clearly physical problem, so when you observe a sudden change in behavior in someone with dementia, it's the first thing to check.
posted by Riverine at 12:47 PM on September 13, 2018 [20 favorites]

If Jim is deteriorating, Alice probably doesn't have the tools/training to deal with it. He could be getting violent or mean or he could be hard to get to eat anything. You should definitely talk to the daughter. Alice probably can't be his caregiver much longer. It's a terrible job, and it only gets worse the longer it goes on. The every few days help from the daughter is good, but it sounds like it's not enough anymore. There are some options that need to happen soon: Either they need to be with the daughter full-time, or he needs to have regular caregivers in their home, or he needs to be moved to assisted living or a memory unit. Alice may or may not be able to manage on her own for a while if she doesn't have Jim there, but now is the time that they both need external help on the regular. Maybe look up elder services in your area, and give the number to Daughter.
posted by clone boulevard at 1:35 PM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, keep in mind that Jim might be drinking some of the wine. She might not be downing the whole bottle in a day herself! Dementia has a really weird path, and sometimes it makes the sufferer ravenous, and they'll eat and drink everything in sight.
posted by clone boulevard at 1:41 PM on September 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ask Alice to bring Daughter over next time she comes to visit. You all have a glass of wine, and I dunno, cookies. You enjoy your friendship with Alice; you know she's hurting, she was friends with your husband's mom, you want to be supportive as the good neighbors you are, and you'd love to meet her daughter. You present Alice with wine and say something to the effect of, "For Jim! We know he'll love it."

And subterfuge the hell out of it from there when Alice goes to the bathroom etc.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:57 PM on September 13, 2018

Wait, do you guys independently know that Jim is demented too, or is that Alice's report? People with dementia are often not reliable narrators, and I'd be concerned that Alice might be more impaired than she seems. The gradually escalating alcohol requests (even before this week, she was asking often enough that you guys were stocking bottles specifically for her) also makes me worried about underlying alcoholism, which itself can cause a non-Alzheimer type dementia.
posted by basalganglia at 2:30 PM on September 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

It's also possible that Alice is stockpiling the wine bottles somewhere and is forgetting where they're stashed in the house, hence coming back out ask for more. At any rate, absolutely do contact the daughter and tell her that you're concerned. You'd be doing her an important service.
posted by TwoStride at 7:43 PM on September 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

In the case that you want to stop giving her wine but still want her to come over for interaction, would it be possible to start saying "we don't have any wine but would you like some apple cider?" or fancy sodas from the grocery store.
posted by storytam at 7:53 PM on September 13, 2018

I like storytam's idea of saying you don't have any wine and offering something else. I also think it's a good idea to mention it to the daughter.

It is perfectly okay to say no to the wine request -- and I can understand if you don't want to be blunt about it.
posted by wryly at 8:06 PM on September 13, 2018

If you can offer to take over a meal once a week, do laundry, or visit and have a glass of wine with Alice, it might be a great kindness.

I love this idea. You have a really nice connection already; while the possible alcohol abuse and compulsive nature of these requests is concerning, it may just worsen right now if she thinks you are going to bust her for it. So yeah, mention it to her daughter who knows about medication, medical history etc. and go on being the support that you are.
posted by BibiRose at 6:43 AM on September 14, 2018

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