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The complexities of sex and aging

Are there different rules for consenting senior adults?
Are there different rules for consenting senior adults?
Corey Bridwell/KPCC

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Sexuality — it’s a part of life, something we as consenting adults take for granted. But what about our elderly relatives, those who are sequestered in nursing facilities?

The need for physical intimacy doesn’t just go away as we age. Evidence shows that many seniors enjoy healthy sexual relationships well into their eighties. For those living in nursing homes, however, there can be barriers to intimacy.

A new study shows that, in addition to the lack of privacy, the need for sexual expression between elderly patients is often ignored by their caregivers, and sexual relationships are discouraged. The onset of dementia or Alzheimers’ presents its own set of problems: how do administrators know if sexual relations are consensual or not? What happens if family members object, believing their relative is being taken advantage of? How to facilitators protect their patients from coercion and abuse?

Is depriving senior residents of sexual contact the safest policy? Is it healthy — or even possible?


Stacy Tessler Lindau, M.D., Associate Professor of Obstetrics/Gynecology and Medicine-Geriatrics, University of Chicago Medicine

Debra Cherry, Ph.D, executive vice president, Alzheimer’s Association, California Southland Chapter

David Farrell, licensed nursing home administrator and director of organizational development for Windsor Health Care; on the board of directors for the Pioneer Network, a national organization advocating best practices in nursing care facilities