Sex and the CCRC

Yes, this one got our attention, too. A recent paper from Australian researchers advocate that older adults living in senior care facilities, including those with memory issues such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, have the right to have sex.

The Australian Centre for Evidence-Based Aged Care published the findings in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics, noting that many residents are prevented from being intimate, due to prohibitive policies or environments such as lack of privacy, ageism, or the fear of legal issues. Staffs, on the other hand, find it difficult to juggle residents’ care, safety and their own prejudices.

“Sexual self-determination is considered a fundamental human right by most of us living in Western societies,” write the paper’s authors. “While we must abide by laws regarding consent and coercion, in general we expect to be able to engage in sexual behavior whenever, and with whomever, we choose. Residents’ sexual expression is often overlooked, ignored, or even discouraged.”

The authors go on to stress that consent is a major issue, particularly when it comes to those with memory loss such as dementia.

“Sexuality is viewed with even greater anxiety, either being labeled ‘inappropriate’ or a ‘challenging’ behavior or as a risk to the resident. While every effort should be made to ensure that no resident comes to harm, [CCRCs and other care facilities] must respect the rights of residents with dementia to make decisions about their sexuality, intimacy, and physical relationships.”

The paper also urges nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to not only respect residents’ rights to make decisions about their sexuality, intimacy and physical relationships, but to provide opportunities and physical accommodations for such behavior.

“Since it has been well established that sexuality and intimacy continue to be important in later life and are central to an individual’s health and well-being, the lack of attention paid by aged care facilities to residents’ sexual needs is concerning.”

We may snicker at the topic, but as the population ages and the number of people with memory issues increases, this will no doubt continue to be part of the larger conversation.

Does your community encourage – or discourage – intimacy and relationships among residents? Are you being cautious, or ignoring the issue altogether?

The Varsity Team

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