Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sexuality, Hospice-Palliative Care and Senior Citizens (Video: 3:56 mins.)

Like death, sex is another American taboo that many people avoid discussing, particularly when it relates to senior citizens. Including palliative or hospice care in the discussion can be even more difficult. Inaccurate stereotypes often surface during sexuality conversations. Why is an old man interested in sex called a “dirty old man,” but an interested young man isn’t? Why do people think the elderly outgrow all their sexual desires? Sex doesn’t belong to youth, and safe sex practices belong to all ages.

Living with terminal illness can be traumatic to patients’ sexual well-being. Communication is critical for making good sexual adjustments during this vulnerable time. Professional help can often make this transition easier. According to the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Carethere is a place for sexuality, depending on patients’ conditions, during a terminal illness. Health professionals should acknowledge and support patients’ desires to function sexually within their abilities. In fact, health professionals should initiate this discussion.

Seniors who are not terminally ill should also have their sexuality recognized and accepted. Dr. Myrtle Wilhite, medical director of A Woman’s Touch Sexuality Resources, does this by teaching a sexuality class for seniors. She says she teaches them the same things she teaches nurses. Whether it’s technique, anatomy, and everything else in between, she makes sure they leave with all the information she can give them to enjoy their sexuality, including tips on what to do when sex doesn’t work out right.

As one senior stated, “I still enjoy hearing about sex and all that.” Now, if we can just get more seniors and others to say, “I enjoy hearing about death and all that.” Hopefully, millions of baby boomers will make that statement a common one in the near future.

This video gives a classroom view of the senior sexuality class.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback at many online and offline booksellers and in e-book form at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online stores.

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