As we age, our sexual appetite may change, but it does not vanish. A 2007 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine makes it clear: 53 percent of seniors ages 65 to 74 and 26 percent of seniors ages 75 to 85 reported being sexually active. Half of the sexually active seniors in the older group reported having sex two to three times a month.
So it’s no surprise that many residents in senior living communities – particularly married couples – continue to have sex well into their golden years. But the issue gets a little thorny when it comes to sex for residents with dementia.
On the one hand, research has revealed that physical intimacy can be comforting to those who are dealing with the ravages of memory loss, since touch is often the last sense to deteriorate.
But a key question remains: Do seniors with dementia have the capacity to consent to sex? Senior living communities vary in their response.
Capacity to Consent?
The Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York, for one, believes that residents with dementia do have the capacity to consent to sex; the home has even had a written policy on sexual expression in place since 1995.
But the American Health Care Association, an industry trade group, offers no formal training or guidelines for dealing with senior sexuality, relying on individual communities to respect the rights and needs of residents on a case-by-case basis.
Unfortunately, many communities are finding themselves unprepared to deal with situations of sex between seniors with dementia. A recent Bloomberg News article reports a 2009 incident at an Iowa nursing home in which two residents with dementia (one divorced, one married) were discovered having sex. The director of nursing and the nursing home administrator were both fired over the incident.
Though the situation was not cut-and-dried (when is sex ever simple?), it’s clear that senior living providers must be better prepared to face these challenges.
Read more about sex in assisted living on our blog.