Caregivers are surprised (and sometimes shocked) when a person with a dementia-related disease becomes sexually active and/or aggressive. Unfortunately, people in the medical and long-term care communities rarely warn caregivers that stroke survivors, people with Alzheimer’s, and individuals who take Dopamine to control the symptoms of Parkinson’s, sometimes display surprising and inappropriate sexual behavior.
So when it happens, family members often get angry, offended, and grossed out. Such was the case with Dorothy, a lovely woman who had put Art, her 83 year-old husband, into a long-term care facility after he suffered a debilitating stroke.
Everyone understood and accepted the problems Art had with speaking, walking, and using his hand. They knew these issues were a result of the stroke. But when he developed a fervent crush on his 35-year-old physical therapist, his family’s sympathy and compassion quickly turned to disgust.
Art didn’t know he was doing anything wrong. He saw the therapist every day. She was always cheerful, encouraging, and friendly, which he interpreted as flirtatious. He had no concept of the differences in their ages, he just knew that he was attracted to her, so one day he asked her to have sex with him. When the therapist told Art she said she liked him, but not in that way, Art got angry. He went to the facility’s administrator and claimed that she was a tease. He said that she had led him on, got him all worked up only to shut him down, and he wanted to file a formal complaint.
Understandably, the administrator was concerned, the therapist was embarrassed, and Art’s wife Dorothy was furious.
Some of the stories Elaine Sanchez, co-founder of CaregiverHelp Support Group Program shares in this module are very funny, but it is important to remember that when people have Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related diseases, their erratic behavior is generally a result of the damage that has been done to their brains. Their inhibitions are lowered and they no longer have an awareness of what qualifies as socially acceptable behavior.
Their inappropriate sexual expression can also be a result of an unmet need that the person can not adequately express.
It can be triggered by pain, hunger, or thirst. Sometimes a person will grab ahold of him/herself because of a need to use the bathroom. They could be acting out because they have a urinary tract infection. They might be longing for some kind of comfort, and they associate sex with their memories of feeling good. Their sexual expression generally has nothing to do with the affection they had for their spouse/partner, and it is not in any way a rejection of their relationship.
If we can remember that all of us are born sexual beings, and no matter how old or how sick we become, we will always crave affection, comfort, and human touch, it might make our responses to our care receivers a little more compassionate.