Interest in sex does not decrease as we age, even when a person has dementia. In some cases, her actions will be interpreted as sexual when she is trying to communicate. When behaviour expresses a sexual desire, give her privacy. She is an adult and has the right to be left alone.
Sexual behaviour involving a couple (when one or both has dementia) is a difficult subject, especially if not with a spouse. While it may be tempting to try to stop the relationship, keep in mind he likely no longer remembers his partner or even being married. Allowing it to continue may hurt his spouse and family, but further responsive behaviour may occur if he is either prevented from seeing his new companion or made to feel guilty. Distraction can work to disengage the behaviour, at least for a period of time.
Please keep in mind that this refers to consensual behaviour. If the sexual behaviour is not consensual (e.g. resident to resident or resident to staff member), use the strategies below.
- Less control over urges due to changes in the brain
- Disrobing because of tight clothing, an overheated room, the need to use the washroom or disorientation of time and space
- Provide privacy.
- Stay calm and don’t judge or scold.
- Distract with activities that suggest comfort (cuddling a pet or stuffed animal or looking at family photos) or keep hands busy (folding, sorting or holding stress balls).
- Change his wardrobe with shirts that close in the back or provide suspenders if he takes off his pants.
- If she makes sexual advances on a visitor or co-resident, try to distract her or remove her from the situation.
- Avoid approaching him in ways that might be misunderstood (i.e. stroking his knee or putting your arm around his waist).
- Gently touch or hug the person in a way that will not be perceived as sexual.
- Offer a body pillow to cuddle in bed (if the person goes into other people’s beds at night). A stuffed animal or a hot-water bottle wrapped in a towel can also provide comfort and satisfy the need for a warm body.
- Put a pillow on his lap for a barrier between his hands and genitals.
- Contact staff immediately if your physical well-being is in danger.
- Provide her with an apron to wear with pockets full of objects to touch. This might divert her from touching herself or at least allow her to do so more discreetly.