Understanding Dementia – Dementia and Sexuality
By Mary Bates, MS, CT, Certified Dementia Practitioner
Everyone has a need for love and affection. Sexuality is a fundamental part of human existence, and sex is an important way of sharing closeness and expressing love. Many people, however, have difficulty accepting that older adults or those who have serious illnesses still have sexual needs.
New research shows that many men and women with dementia still enjoy sex. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, nearly half of men — 46 percent — and 18 percent of women with dementia are sexually active.
Sexuality can continue in the face of dementia. In many cases, intimacy is the only form of communication left in the relationship.
Tips for coping with changes in sexuality include exploring new ways of spending time together, such as sharing a favorite meal, playing a board game, taking a walk, or reminiscing while looking through old photographs; focusing on other ways to show affection such as snuggling or holding hands; and other nonsexual forms of touching such as massage, hugging, and dancing.
Sometimes, people with dementia are overly interested in sex, called hypersexuality. To cope with hypersexuality, sometimes characterized as having lost the ability to understand what is appropriate and what isn’t, try giving the person more attention and reassurance. You might gently touch, hug, hold hands, or use other kinds of affection to meet his or her emotional needs.
Each couple has to find what works for them to continue to experience intimacy as dementia progresses.
Speaking with your healthcare professional, a clergy member, or participating in a support group will help to create solutions to help both the person living with dementia and their caregiver.
Mary Bates, MS, CT, is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She is the Assisted Living and Memory Care Director of Summit by Morrison, a senior living community offering independent living, assisted living, memory care, and respite care.