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Guiding Principles for Service Providers Helping Seniors Who Have Alcohol Problems
Over the years, through the course of many discussions with people who work with seniors who are experiencing alcohol problems, I have found several key ideas keep on surfacing.
People stressed the need to respect the person. This is a person first, and secondly, a senior with a specific problem (in this case, an alcohol or another drug misuse or dependence problem). They stressed the need to see the person behind the presenting problem. As part of that, they pointed out the need to deal with problems holistically. An alcohol problem is often only part of the senior's problems.
They also pointed out the importance of understanding that problems that developed over a long time are unlikely to get fixed overnight. They stressed the importance of taking the time.
You will need to respect the seniors right to live at risk of different kinds of harm and the senior's right to make choices that you may disagree with. They underscored the need to understand the nature of alcohol dependency, and how it can affect a senior's choices. Recognize the role alcohol is playing in this person's life. Don't take away one coping mechanism (alcohol) without making sure there is a better coping mechanism in place.
They pointed out that you should not wait for a crisis before responding and offering help. A senior may not survive the crisis. They emphasized that you should not try to "unbuild" or dismantle the seniors life. Accept the person where he or she is. Also, understand that circumstances can change rapidly. A senior with an alcohol problem who you thought was doing well, can quickly deteriorate. Most importantly, they stressed dont be discouraged. The effort is well worth it.
Below are a number of Best Practices Guiding Principles that have been developed by the Seeking Solutions project, with many of these starting points in mind.
Practices Guiding Principles
can be helpful to have a few starting points to guide you when counselling,
offering other types of help or when planning and implementing resources in the
community for older adults who have alcohol problems. People across the country
have found that these approaches work well with seniors who are experiencing an
alcohol or medication abuse or misuse problem.
an alcohol problem can make an older person feel alone and unsure of himself or
herself. It is very important to continuously support, facilitate, and motivate
approaches and opportunities such as visiting
the person at their home
to reach out to the person.
the needed time to build rapport and trust
on that trust by being available at key points (for
example, that may mean accompanying them for the first time when they are
meeting a new service provider, seniors' group or other resource for the first
Be Flexible and Accessible
addiction or other health service being delivered must be accessible to the senior to be of any use.
That means the service will need to address any
That means the service will need to address anyphysical, social, emotional and geographical barriers to service.
In reaching out and offering help to older adults,
recognize they may need more time and give them it,
go at their speed (which may mean going much slower), and
focus on their needs.
the differences among seniors (they are not all the same)
to older adults to find the gaps in and barriers to addiction and other services
in your community or region.
and provide services that are appropriate and relevant for this population.
evaluating programs, look at the program from the older persons' perspectives,
particularly for indicators of “success”.
3. Understand and Respect the Older Person
demonstrate respect in many ways, including by acknowledging older adults’
need for independence and control over their own lives. People show respect in the
language they use and the ways that they act towards the older adults (including
whether they see themselves or the older adult as the “expert” in the
also demonstrate respect to older persons generally when they are sensitive to
cultural, community and generational differences, and when they turn to older
people for ideas on how to effectively reach older adults in their community.
to the person.
that the alcohol problem has nothing to do with personal weakness .
labelling language such as “alcoholic”, "alcoholism", "co-dependency" or “enabling” when talking with
the older adult or with others.
approaches that help promote wellness.
imposing your own personal or professional values on the person‘s goals.
sensitive to the complex and novel ethical issues that can arise in the context
4. Take a “Whole Person” Approach
as a problem seldom exists in isolation. There are frequently many interrelated
difficulties in the older person’s life. It is important to take into account
all aspects of the person’s physical, psychological, social, financial and
the same time, alcohol is only one facet of this person’s life. It is important
not to constantly dwell on it, but look to other parts of the person.
any discussion of alcohol issues in a normalizing context.
not talk with the person only in the context of discussing his or her alcohol problems.
The person is not the label. There are many other
sides to this person.
humour and other positive techniques to lighten up the discussion, and
facilitate what can otherwise be an anxious atmosphere.
the person opportunities to express and show parts of his or her life,
strengths, skills, capabilities etc.
adults have all the psychological needs that other people have, including the
need to be wanted, needed, and valued. Older adults are often experiencing many
losses in their lives, including loss of a spouse and friends, and loss of job
or other important roles.
adults who are experiencing alcohol problems are a very diverse group. Older
women and older men often face different types of experiences, as do younger and
older seniors, rural and urban seniors, seniors who are members of an ethnic or
cultural minority group etc.
is important to recognize the needs of older adults with an alcohol problem will
be different from older adults who do not have one. Their needs are also
different from the younger people who have an alcohol problem.
older persons experiencing an alcohol problem have become very isolated because
of their physical, psychological, social or economic condition. Typically
helping will mean taking active efforts to reach and support them. It means
providing services that are readily available, user- friendly, flexible and
accessible. This may include offering outreach, home visiting, telephone
support, as well as assuring there are reliable ways to get the person to
services and to help them reconnect in the community.
by helping to meet the person’s basic needs.
on ways of reducing distress for the person.
- Recognize small successes
with the person, and build on them.
that what you or others want to change in the situation may not match the older person’s
and address barriers such as transportation.
6. Be an Advocate
Seniors experiencing alcohol problems can easily have their needs overlooked or ignored by service providers and others. Seniors experiencing alcohol problems are sometimes discriminated against, and it can be necessary to push simply to get their basic needs met.
can often be difficult for an older adult to let others know what he or she
needs to improve the situation. As a result, it is important to help older
adults speak on their own behalf, as well as speak on their behalf to get those
needs recognized and addressed.
working outside of addictions services (and in many cases, those working in it
as well), may want older persons to stop drinking before giving them other types
of help they need. This is often not possible, or warranted. People
will often need to be strong advocates for older persons to help change policies
in hospitals, emergency, addiction services, long term care facilities, day
programs, housing programs etc. that can act as a barrier to the person getting
the different kinds of help and services needed.
– Recognize and actively counter the stereotypes that exist about aging or
about alcohol problems.
– Actively question “neutral “ policies in addiction, health and
community services that discriminate against or act as a barrier to an older
person receiving help.
7. Work with Others
effectively take a “whole person approach”, usually means drawing on the skills of a variety of community resources,
professionals, and support services to provide a comprehensive range of
community-oriented services to the older adult. This means there is a need for
collaboration between volunteer and formal organizations, as well as
inter-agency cooperation, working together in an integrated way.
that no one service provider can tackle all the issues alone.
- Whatever service you are offering, avoid working in isolation.
- Look for natural partners in your community such as mental health
workers, and pharmacists.
- Also look for help in the context of other community and seniors’
- Provide those connected to the older adult with feedback to build hope
and promote the feeling that change is possible.
Page last updated
Monday December 18, 2006 Questions? Comments? Contact Webmaster:
Page last updated Monday December 18, 2006
Questions? Comments? Contact Webmaster:
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