Sexuality and Dementia: Who Is In Control?

Who Should Be in Control of the Sexuality of a Person with Dementia?

sexuality-dementiaI often talk about sexuality and dementia when I speak at caregiving conferences. It’s a topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but it’s important to know that sexuality is a part of our humanity. We don’t age out of it, and regardless of how old or impaired we become, we do not lose our desire for closeness, intimacy, and touch.

I wrote an article for “CaringTimes Blog” about Henry Rayhons, a 78-year-old Iowa man who was tried for third degree sex abuse after nursing home staffers told him his wife’s Alzheimer’s had advanced to the point that she was no longer capable of consenting to sex.

After three-days of deliberation, the jurors returned a verdict of not guilty. (Thank goodness!) If Mr. Rayhons had been convicted, he could have spent up to ten years in prison. There was a lot of press coverage surrounding this case, and the primary question of abuse was based on whether Mrs. Rayhons had the mental capacity to legally consent to having sex with her husband.

As I followed this case, I was surprised and disappointed over the lack of conversation about sexuality and dementia and who has the right to decide when individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can no longer be sexually active.

Perhaps this situation will start conversations that will encourage nursing homes to establish policies and train staff on how to properly respond when older people and residents with dementia display uninhibited or inappropriate sexual behavior. There’s a big difference between intimacy and sexual abuse, and it’s critically important for professional caregivers to be trained to recognize and respond appropriately in both situations.

In the article I also included a draft of my own sexual power of attorney, because in the event I develop dementia, I don’t want to cede control of my sexuality to a prudish nursing home staff member or to my children (who might be grossed out at the idea of their demented mother being intimate).

Please click here to read the article: Who Has the Right To Control the Sexuality of a Person with Dementia?

I value your feedback, and I would love for you to post your comments.

Also, if you haven’t seen my TEDx Talk, please click here: Having the Sex Talk with Dad

Finally, if you are a mental health professional and need continuing education credits, please click here to take my course: Caregiver Help: Sex and Dementia