Sex and the single senior

Jun 27, 2012

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An elderly couple hold hands as they enter the sea to go for a swim. Credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Sexuality – it’s a part of life, something we as consenting adults take for granted. But what about our elderly relatives, those who are sequestered in nursing facilities?

The need for physical intimacy doesn’t just go away as we age. Evidence shows that many seniors enjoy healthy sexual relationships well into their eighties. For those living in nursing homes, however, there can be barriers to intimacy.

A new study shows that, in addition to the lack of privacy, the need for sexual expression between elderly patients is often ignored by their caregivers, and sexual relationships are discouraged. The onset of dementia or Alzheimers’ presents its own set of problems: how do administrators know if sexual relations are consensual or not? What happens if family members object, believing their relative is being taken advantage of? How to facilitators protect their patients from coercion and abuse?

Is depriving senior residents of sexual contact the safest policy? Is it healthy – or even possible?


Dr. Steven Tam, M.D., assistant clinical professor in geriatrics at the Department of Internal Medicine at University of California, Irvine School of Medicine; and TBA

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