Nov 16, 2012

Dr. Ruth Answers: Alzheimer's Patients and Sex in Nursing Homes

Dr. Ruth answers this very difficult question from a reader in the Alzheimer's Reading Room.

Alzheimer's Reading Room

Dr. Ruth | Alzheimer's Reading Room
Dr Ruth Westheimer
Our reader Pathfinder asks Dr. Ruth.
Q. My wife and I have a long, very loving relationship of almost 60 years. She is in stage 5 to 6 of AD and resides in a memory care facility.

She has begun pleading with me to have sex with her. Privacy is difficult in an institution, and I am afraid to take her home, for fear that she will resist returning to her facility.

Your guidance would be appreciated.

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Dr. Ruth's answer.
A. Privacy is difficult but perhaps not impossible.

It may be embarrassing but you should ask someone at the facility whether they have a room that you could use, perhaps with a lock on the door (though that may not exist as locked doors pose dangers to patients) but at least with a Do Not Disturb sign that you could hang on the doorknob and the staff would be instructed to heed.

There's a good chance that the administration has already thought about this issue and if they haven't you would be doing a service for all the patients to force them to come up with a plan.

There's this notion that those over a certain age lose all interest in sex but it's not true.
Having sexually frustrated patients probably adds to their stress level. But of course sex provides a lot more than just physical pleasure. It's a way of reconnecting, of saying “I love you”, of cementing your relationship.

Even if a couple didn't actually have sex, just being given the opportunity to lie down together and hug and kiss would be very important to both the patient and the spouse.

So for those reasons you would be doing every couple in your circumstances at that facility a big favor by lobbying for a couple's retreat room where patients and their spouse could get an hour of privacy.

Note: Dr. Ruth has agreed to answer questions about Alzheimer's caregiving from readers in the Alzheimer's Reading Room. You should confine your question to problems associated with caregiving. If you have questions on medicine or medical treatments you should consult with your doctor. You can enter your question in the comments area below, and we will forward it to Dr. Ruth for her response.

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In her book Dr Ruth presents coping strategies for both the practical problems and emotional stresses of Alzheimer's care.

Dr. Ruth shows you how to avoid caregiver burnout; get effective support from family and friends; resolve family disputes; maintain your relationship with a spouse or parent with Alzheimer's; manage behavior; make your home safe; and deal effectively with doctors, care providers and facilities.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room