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Elderly denied sex life in care homes

26th June 2012

Researchers in Australia say that the rights of elderly people in care homes to a sex life are frequently disregarded, often needlessly.

Old Hands

Scientists from the Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care said that concerns over the safety of people with dementia and ageist attitudes frequently led staff to deny the possibility of consensual sex to residents, unnecessarily.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the researchers said that elderly people often still enjoy a sexual relationship when they are living in their own homes, even when they are in the early stages of dementia.

Staff in care homes often frown upon sexual activity among residents, however.

Often, there is not enough privacy for a sex life. And the study found that many care-home staff are concerned that people with dementia are too vulnerable to sexual exploitation or coercion to be allowed to risk intimacy at all.

Staff often worry that they would be failing in their duty of care if they allowed care-home residents to have a sexual relationship, and fear that the relatives of the elderly person might complain.

However, the team writes, sexual self-determination is considered a fundamental human right by most of us living in Western societies, and that we expect to be able to have a sexual relationship with whomever, whenever we want to, as long as it is legal and consensual.

The article also pointed to negative attitudes towards older people's sexuality, which can lead to residents' sexual expression being overlooked, ignored, or even discouraged.

Staff also found the complex issue of whether care-home residents with dementia were capable of consenting to sex or intimacy very challenging, the report said.

It called on care-home staff to respect the rights of residents with dementia to make their own decisions about sexual contact, intimacy and physical relationships, within a framework of ensuring no harm came to them.

It said care-home staff should not take away people's "basic human right" to their sexuality, nor stand in the way of what it said was "a normal and healthy part of ageing."

Residents of care-homes who took part in the study said they wanted acknowledgement of the fact that they might be sexually active, and said their sexual needs should be part of their healthcare assessment.

The study found that many care homes lack staff with the appropriate levels of training and formal policies on intimate relationships.

Existing frameworks used to assess residents' mental capacity were often designed to address issues of consent to therapies and power of attorney, making them unsuitable for assessing an individual's capacity to make decisions about their love life.

Even people who had a very low score on cognitive impairment tests were still capable of expressing preferences for a friend or lover.

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Sabrina Murphy

Wednesday 27th June 2012 @ 5:00

Elderly couple, even those that are in home cares should be given the opportunity to have a sex life of their own.

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