Love In A Nursing Home

A thoughtful and well-written piece from NPR about the complications and considerations arising when nursing home patients – particularly those suffering from dementia – try to maintain existing or form new romantic relationships:

[Gerontologist William H.] Thomas said that we need to see a shift in our society’s understanding of aging. “We need to normalize the idea that older people are human beings,” he says. “They have the same needs and same desires they had before. Age changes those needs and desires, but they are still there.”

He recommends that adult children talk about the issue of sexuality with their aging parents in nursing homes. “They never thought that Mom would have a boyfriend at the nursing home, but it’s true,” he says. “As we become an older society, this is something that we need to learn to better address.”

I quite agree that these important matters should be discussed between care homes and their patients or those with power of attorney as part of the process for selecting the right care home – it is vital that the staff know how to handle such situations and how to respect the wishes of the patient.

Somehow, I also know that just as the end-of-life care discussion morphed into “death panels”, any discussion of this topic in the US will immediately be hijacked by today’s GOP and mischaracterised as “mandatory orgies for grandma” or something else of the like.

2 thoughts on “Love In A Nursing Home

  1. marylhooper June 28, 2012 / 8:33 AM

    A subject dear to my heart! Experience of working in a nursing home with people who have dementia shows me that many people have sexual desires and seek sexual attachments well into their eighties, nineties and beyond. People in nursing homes should have the same opportunity for expressing this as people anywhere else.

    However, it is an area full of complication, because of the need to safeguard vulnerable people. Do both parties really want what is going on? What if one person wants to stop and the other doesn’t? Can the other person stop? What if they can’t? Some residents have husbands, wives, partners who visit lovingly and faithfully. However understanding they are, they won’t want to see their George cuddling Susan on the sofa.

    And so, while sexual connections are made between residents, which can be a source of comfort and happiness to them both, it is a lot easier for the nursing home if it stops at a bit of hand holding and kissing.

    What do you suggest?


    • belindasgallery June 28, 2012 / 3:48 PM

      I quite agree! It’s a difficult area, and as one who has never worked in a nursing home, I would defer to the general viewpoint of those who do. I imagine there is enough to do during a typical shift without having to potentially monitor every resident to ensure that they are not crossing the line with any of the types of behaviour that you suggest, and so a general blanket rule along the lines you suggest seems like the best option to me.

      It’s good that this conversation is now starting to happen in the USA, and perhaps now people will discuss it here in the UK too.


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