Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sexuality of Older Adult Residents: Nursing Staff (Research, Dementia Video 3:09)

“You just made me throw-up in my mouth a little.”
“How about old people just stop having sex?”

These are a few of the negative stereotypical responses, including “funny” photos of diapered seniors, that I received at a social media site. Some are too vulgar to print here. I was attempting to initiate an intelligent discussion on the life-threatening topic of older adults and the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No one took this matter seriously. Disgust and ignorance are still perpetuated by many regarding adults having sex during their senior years.

Sometimes healthcare workers also reflect these biases, particularly regarding older residents with dementia. Examples are discomfort, denial, and other reluctance by some staff members when they are confronted with the sexual behavior of older residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. A study involving an extensive search of electronic databases of nursing staff and reported in the International Journal of Nursing Studies revealed the following:

1)   Nursing staff shows rather positive attitudes toward later-life sexuality.
2)   The extent of the staff’s knowledge regarding sexuality in the aged seemed to be very limited.
3)   Staff caregivers hold rather conservative attitudes toward sexuality of institutionalized elderly.
4)   Responses to residents' sexual behavior were influenced by the nursing staff’s own level of comfort related to sexuality issues and the culture within the institution where they work.

More research and education programs are needed on this topic in order to foster positive attitudes about sexuality of older adults. This video titled Freedom of Sexual Expression presents sexual expression as a basic human right for all residents, including those with dementia:

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


  1. I have encountered the bias on sexuality in nursing homes that was addressed here. Patients were instructed that it was against the policy of the facility for a man and wife to have sexual relations in an assisted care facility. An Alzheimer's patient, who fell in love with another man while her husband looked on and was ignored, was placed into restraints because she and this person were having intercourse. This was considered 'abnormal' behavior by the staff of that facility. As a social worker, I have had to try to educate these facilities on the bias that exists against a normal, healthy impulse in this population. I appreciate this article, and would appreciate having any new ones sent to me!

  2. Thanks for sharing that information, Dusty. The "policy of the facility" that they gave to patients regarding sexual relations is illegal, and the ombudsman should be notified for starters about legal ramifications. Fortunately, you are in a position to educate many who do not understand this issue.

    In the right upper column of my blog page, you can subscribe to posts, comments, and follow by email. In the lower right column, you can read archives of previous posts dating back to 2007.
    Best wishes in improving the quality of life for older adults.

  3. Thank you for this article, it really opened my eyes to a few things that I was completely unaware of previously. However, I think it is fair to say that not all care home nurses are like this.