The Difficult Problem of Dementia and Sexual Consent

Nursing Home Blog

Abuse of nursing home residents can take many forms. Sexual abuse of residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is one type of abuse that may not be discussed as often as others, but it can have devastating consequences.

How Do Dementia and Alzheimer’s Affect Sexuality?

Dementia and Alzheimer’s can change the way that people feel about sex. Different people react differently, with a great deal of individual variation. Some people may become more interested in sex as a result of dementia, while others may become less interested or lose interest completely. Some may become more aggressive, and some may become less inhibited.

What Should Nursing Homes Do About Sex?

Some nursing home residents want to maintain or form new sexual or other intimate relationships. Their families may sometimes be uncomfortable with the idea, but these relationships can be very important to the well-being of the people involved. Ideally, nursing homes should allow residents the privacy to conduct consensual relationships in a dignified way.

A big problem, though, is determining whether a relationship is truly consensual when at least one of the people involved suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

How Do Dementia and Alzheimer’s Affect the Ability to Consent?

Do dementia and Alzheimer’s patients have the ability to consent to sex? There is no easy answer. For example, staff found that two residents in a California nursing home had sex in the woman’s room. The man, who was 70, was not cognitively impaired, but the woman, who was 79, had Alzheimer’s. The woman mistakenly believed that the man was her husband.

Did she have the capacity to consent if she did not understand who it was she was with? State officials believed that she did not have that capacity, and they deemed the incident a sexual assault. The nursing home’s administrator, however, believed that there was a “quasi-consensual” relationship. In the end, the nursing home voluntarily closed down before the state could take any action against it.

Sexual abuse, unfortunately, is a big problem in nursing homes. Most cases are not as ambiguous as the one described above, and some involve horrific abuses of power by nursing home employees. Nursing homes have an obligation to protect their residents from all kinds of abuse, including sexual abuse. If you suspect that a loved one is being abused in a nursing home, talk to a nursing home abuse lawyer. Contact the law offices of Garcia, Artigliere & Medby at 1-800-281-8515 for a free, confidential consultation.