Interest in sex does not decrease as we age, even when a person has dementia. In some cases, their actions will be interpreted as sexual when they are trying to communicate. When behaviour expresses a sexual desire, give them privacy. They are an adult and have 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 they likely no longer remember their partner or even being married. Allowing it to continue may hurt their spouse and family, but yet other behaviour may occur if the person is either prevented from seeing their 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 in this situation, we are referring 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
Tips and strategies
- 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 they take off their pants.
- If they make sexual advances on a visitor or co-resident, try to distract them or remove them from the situation.
- Avoid approaching a person in ways that might be misunderstood (i.e. stroking a knee or putting arm around 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 the person's lap for a barrier between their hands and genitals.
- Contact help immediately if your physical well-being is in danger.
- Provide the person with an apron to wear with pockets full of objects to touch. This might divert them from touching themselves or at least allow them to do so more discreetly.
Shifting focus: Guide to understanding dementia behaviour
This booklet is meant to help family members, friends and caregivers of people with dementia understand behaviours and actions.
It provides information about the following:
- Brain and dementia
- Recognizing and understanding the person’s actions and behaviours
- Supportive strategies
More useful links and resources
Conversations about dementia, intimacy and sexuality. Alzheimer Society of Canada. In this information sheet, learn how dementia can affect a person's sexual behaviour and desire for intimacy, and get strategies to help people living with dementia, caregivers and healthcare providers have conversations about intimacy and sexuality.
It’s time to end the taboo of sex and intimacy in care homes. The Conversation, April 2017. This article summarizes a study on sexuality and intimacy in care homes, and highlights the need for more awareness around these topics, particularly through the lens of of black, working-class and LGBT individuals.
For more information, check out our brochure, Conversations About Intimacy and Sexuality.