The topic of sex is often uncomfortable in the best of relationships in the best of times. The topic is especially prickly when one of the partners has Alzheimer’s disease. There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to sexual intimacy between care partners, and sometimes the topic gets shoved under the rug and totally forgotten. But what if the person with Alzheimer’s has an increase in sexual desire and the care partner wants nothing to do with sex?
A person with dementia might express unusual behaviors, and feelings can get hurt when one care partner rejects the other. Sexual intimacy between a caregiver and person who has dementia eventually wanes because at some point the roles of the two people in the relationship change. The caregiver might feel that he or she is caring for a child, and it’s unnatural for a parent to have sex with his or her child. But human beings are sexual creatures. We need and thrive on physical intimacy and touch.
Here are some suggestions to help you navigate the challenges of fulfilling sexual and/or intimacy needs while coping with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.
• If you are a caregiver who would like to continue a sexual relationship with a loved one who is in a memory care home it’s important that your needs are respected by the care staff. Ask them to respect your need for privacy, and determine the best time for an overnight stay.
• As embarrassing as it might seem, magazines such as Playboy or Maxim can provide the stimulation that a male needs to fulfill his sexual needs.
• A weekly or bi-weekly massage provides intimate physical contact. Combined with aromatherapy it’s a wonderful way to nourish a person’s natural desire for human touch. If you are uncomfortable doing the massage hire a professional massage therapist.
• Getting into bed with a loved one and cuddling or spooning promotes physical intimacy.
• Holding hands and sitting side by side while listening to music, watching a movie, or looking at photographs is a sweet way to connect with another person.
• Caregivers whose care partners no longer recognize them might develop new emotional ties that lead to a sexual relationship. Newfound happiness can erase feelings of loneliness and despair, but feelings of guilt can also arise. In cases such as these speaking with a therapist can help clarify and alleviate conflicted feelings.
1. Changes in Relationships (Web page) Single copy free (800) 272-3900 Available online: http://www.alz.org/living_with_alzheimers_changes_in_relationships.asp
2. Sexuality (Topic Sheet) Single copy free (800) 272-3900 Available online: http://www.alz.org/national/documents/topicsheet_sexuality.pdf
3. Intimacy and dementia: is there a time to stop having sex? Kennard, C. http://www.healthcentral.com/alzheimers/c/57548/24937/time-stop-sex
4. Intimacy, marriage and Alzheimer’s. San Francisco, CA: Eldercare Online. http://www.ec-online.net/Knowledge/articles/intimacy.html