People don’t lose their sexuality as they get older and aged care policy and practice must recognise that denying the human need for contact and intimacy diminishes residents’ quality of life, according to a leading researcher behind a new assessment tool for facilities.

In the absence of policy, education and training , there is often a “kneejerk reaction” when issues around sexuality and relationships between residents arise in aged care, said Dr Michael Bauer, senior research fellow at the Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care at La Trobe University.

“Facilities often don’t know how to handle it or how to proceed. Without a framework from which to respond, staff will tend to work off the basis of their own set of values or morals,” said Dr Bauer, who has extensively researched the issue of sexuality in aged care.

Sexuality did not refer solely to sexual intercourse but also included the human needs for grooming, feeling attractive, socialisation, intimacy, touch and romance.

Dr Bauer will be among the experts speaking at the inaugural Let’s Talk About Sex Conference, being organised by Alzheimer’s Australia Vic and COTA Victoria to raise awareness of the issue in the sector.

Sexuality and ageing remained a “challenging and confronting” area for many aged care facilities, but was nonetheless a quality-of-life issue, Dr Bauer told Australian Ageing Agenda.  

In a national survey published late last year, Dr Bauer and colleagues found that just a quarter of aged care facilities addressed the issue of sexuality or sexual health in their resident assessments.

“It may not be appropriate to ask those questions when someone moves into a facility, but at some point down the track it might be appropriate to gather that sort of information to feed into the care delivery,” he said.

Similarly, in his survey of all Victorian residential aged care facilities in 2007 Dr Bauer found that just 3 per cent made reference to sexuality, intimacy, or relationships in their promotional materials.

New checklist for facilities

In response to the lack of resources and policy in this area, Dr Bauer and colleagues have developed a new sexuality assessment tool, which he described as a checklist of the factors that determined “how supportive facilities are towards older people being able to expressing their sexuality in residential aged care.”

It covered areas such as policy, training and education, the needs of older people, environment, safety and risk management. “The idea is that facilities can assess their performance in these areas to see where the gaps might be and what areas they may need to make some changes in,” he said.

The tool has been sent to all aged care facilities and is available to download online (click here to access).

The researchers plann to conduct a follow-up study to determine how facilities were using the tool and what impact it was having, however anecdotal reports suggested some had adopted it and were making procedural and practice changes to improve how they addressed the issue, Dr Bauer said.

“Often one of the difficulties is around knowing where to start, and having the conversation, so it’s a useful discussion starter,” he said.

The Let’s Talk About Sex Conference takes place 8-9 September in Melbourne.

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4 Comments

  1. There is a world of difference between love and affection – and sex. I love my parents and my friends and I hug them, and that is the type of affection that is sorely denied in aged care i.e. not necessarily sex. Getting past the procreation years is a massive liberation for many women, precisely because we no longer have to contend with sex – and don’t expect or want sexual advances.

    I am not surprised that the senior researcher is a male, but I do wonder about the potential for bias in his research. I suggest that embracing this type of presumably biased research will increasingly make aged care facilities attractive to those with sexual proclivities – and deter those of us who don’t.

    Try adding the word “some” to the beginning of this article or even “many men”, but it is misleading to infer that all older people are interested in sex. Most older women I know – and many younger ones – aren’t. And, many of us wouldn’t contemplate residential aged care precisely BECAUSE of the potential for sexual harassment – including rape. We know that a perpetrator of impaired mental capacity (or claimed impaired mental capacity) won’t be prosecuted by Police – and not least because the facilities don’t report such assaults to Police.

    Maybe have two types of care: one for the dirty old men and women, and one for the rest. I will never forget the massive bruise on my partners head which was inflicted within days of her entering respite care – and that nobody could (or would) explain how she got it.

  2. How to even respond to the errant nonsense of the above comment

    Let us be clear. Sexuality, however it is expressed, is a normal part of human adult life. Sexual expression between consenting adults is nothing to be frightened of Angela. And anyway, it is really none of your, or anyone’s, business if two people wish to engage in intimacy.

    Making snide comments about “the senior researcher is a male”,and “this type of presumably biased research” and referring to “dirty old men and women” (my God what exactly is a dirty old man or woman – someone who refuses to wash?) tells us more about your hang ups than adding anything to the discussion.

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