Sex in a Nursing Home? A Dementia Care Unit? ALF?

While it may be a difficult subject to address, sex in a nursing home or other long-term care setting for seniors is more common than you might think. This blog post discusses the ethical, moral, and legal issues surrounding sexual activity among dementia patients.

Sex in a Nursing Home? A Dementia Care Unit? ALF?

Nobody thinks about it until it happens: sex in a nursing home!  But it’s not just nursing homes; it could be any long-term residential setting for seniors like a board and care home, assisted living community, or a dementia care facility.

A recent article in, author Brian Gruley describes a growing trend of older adults in care facilities with dementia continuing to be sexual active.  However, with Alzheimer’s, reason and discretion are no longer reliable. Dementia sufferers are merely following their instincts, and for them sex is no less a craving than say, sweets.

Studies show that even people with dementia have a need to be touched and have intimate encounters.  Here is a visual that gives you an overview of the baby boomers and sex in the aging years, even in the nursing homes. Take a look at this research from Bloomberg and the New England Journal of Medicine: Let’s talk about sex in  a Nursing Home.

The first issue that needs to be addressed is that the nursing home industry is not, but should be prepared for this issue. It is not a new problem. Sex in nursing homes has been occurring for years.  There is always one little lady or elderly gentleman in every home that the staff will find in someone else’s bed, fondling another resident or even kissing. The staff tries very hard to keep these residents apart and is usually distressed at being unsuccessful.

There should be a right to have consensual sex between two consenting adults, even those with dementia.

More on Sex in a Nursing Home

I have met some spouses that actually divorced their spouse with dementia, because they resident with dementia no longer remembered they were married and had found a new love in a nursing home. In fact, Sandra Day O’Conner actually divorced her husband of 50 years after she placed him in a dementia unit. He no longer remembered her and their life long relationship, and actually fell in love with another resident at the dementia care unit. But Mrs. O’Connor didn’t divorce out of anger; she did so to free both of them to live their own lives.

I have also had experiences when family members have moved the dementia patient to another home to avoid this type of situation. I think the sad thing is, so many family members have a difficult time addressing the topic of “sex” let alone “sex” in the aging population with dementia. People don’t understand that it’s really not about sex; it’s about touching someone, being touched by someone, having a person acknowledge that they exist. Sex may be the end result, but you could bring up the issue with the parties and they wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

This is a difficult subject that needs to be addressed with every family, in every nursing home in the country. There are ethical, moral and legal issues that are facing the nursing home industry. It is a problem that is not going away. There are patient rights given to every resident as they are admitted to a nursing home. This paper work should include a Sexual Rights Consent, as well.   This is a subject that should be addressed upon admission and continued to have those ongoing discussions as needed.

As a seasoned nurse, I have told me sons that if I develop dementia and I am one of “those” little ladies, when they get a call from the Director of Nursing, just tell her I was a good Catholic girl, did all the right things that were expected of me, and that at this time in my life, I am just living life upside down!!!

In fact, if the time comes when I need a nursing home, I hope I will be able to be admitted to the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, NY. Here are the set of guidelines they offer to the residents regarding sex and intimacy. Here is the copy of their sexual assessment and consent

I am not making light of this subject. Dementia robs an individual of their short term memory, their impulse control  but may not rob their need for touching and intimacy. It is time that this issue is addressed and taken seriously .The Hebrew Home addresses this issue with grace and dignity. Other facilities should take notice. This issue is not going away and is going to be a growing problem.

You may  read the entire article here