Sex remains important for many people living in aged care, but a challenge for staff and residents’ family members, writes Michael Bauer, who introduces a new guide to assist.
Sexuality is linked to wellbeing and quality of life and the need for affection, looking and feeling attractive, as well as intimacy, and sex can remain important for many people living in aged care facilities.
Growing old is not a limitation on the expression of sexuality or sexual desire and the above needs do not necessarily change because someone has dementia.
Residents’ sexuality can nevertheless often be a challenge for aged care facilities and staff as well as residents’ family members who may find it an awkward and difficult topic to openly discuss.
It can come as a surprise to some family and staff members alike, to learn that a resident still has sexual needs and this can evoke a range of responses from acceptance through to disbelief, or even disgust.
Children can find it difficult to understand and accept that their parent living in an aged care facility still has sexual desires and furthermore wants to fulfil them, particularly if they have dementia.
It can be equally upsetting for families and partners to learn that their loved one wants to spend time with someone else living in the facility. Families may struggle to understand and make sense of what is happening and why, particularly if the person is unable to verbally express their needs.
Sometimes behaviour may seem very out of character for the person. There may be a changed interest in sex, or a change in sexual inhibitions, all of which can cause concern or embarrassment for the family or partner.
To help the families of people living in residential aged care be more informed about sexuality, researchers from the Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care at La Trobe University have developed the resource Sexuality and people in residential aged care facilities: A guide for partners and families.
The guide has undergone extensive consumer consultation and aims to assist family members and partners of people living in aged care facilities understand about sexuality, including for people living with dementia.
Issues covered include:
- the importance of sexuality in old age
- sexuality and living in an aged care facility
- sexuality and dementia
- sexual behaviours and their impact
- how a facility can be supportive of the expression of sexuality
The guide can also be a useful resource for facility staff who need information on this topic. Initially developed in English this resource is soon to be translated into other languages.
Funding for the project was obtained from the Dementia Collaborative Research Centres (DCRC) 3 – Carers and Consumers as part of the Australian Government’s Dementia Initiative.
Michael Bauer is a senior research fellow at the Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care.