According to the National Institute of Health, it is estimated that “more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease”, and that number is expected to grow along with America’s aging population. While there are many questions raised with our increasing life span and aging population, one of the more complex issues centers on dementia and intimacy or sexuality.
Intimacy can provide a meaningful way to stay connected when one member of a couple has dementia. It can also be confusing for other family members and for residential establishments such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities. One striking example of such debate was when the Iowa court system filed a rape claim against a man for having sexual relations with his wife, who was diagnosed with advanced dementia, and was living in a residential facility.
The man was acquitted, but this case raised “medical and ethical concerns”, the crux being whether a person with advanced dementia is able to legally consent to having sex.
The Alzheimers’ Society (U.K.) points out:
“The onset of dementia certainly doesn’t have to mean the end of a happy sex life. It can lead to some big changes, but then all relationships change over time.”
It is commendable when couples and families approach this often unexplored area openly when a loved one is dealing with dementia. Early diagnosis can allow an individual to make their wishes known. Families may also find it helpful to discuss these issues with staff at residential facilities to both provide safety for a loved one who is becoming disinhibited, and also to make sure their loved one is not kept from meaningful physical contact.
Additional helpful resources on this topic can be found at:
www.alzheimers.gov (a site maintained by the US Department of Health and Human Services)
Rosen & Spears is a plaintiff law firm which seeks to protect the rights of elders through nursing home neglect, medical malpractice, financial abuse of seniors, and other types of claims.
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