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article imageExpert: Dementia patients 'should be allowed to have sex'

By Yukio Strachan     Jun 26, 2012 in Health
Nursing home residents suffering with dementia should have the freedom and indeed the right to enjoy sexual expression, but often staff members discourage their sexual expression, a new report suggests.
The paper, published June 25 in the Journal of Medical Ethics, argues that physical intimacy and the expression of sexuality are a basic human right and a normal and healthy part of aging.
Researchers from the Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care state that even though elderly people, including those with early stage dementia, often still enjoy a sexual relationship in their own homes, but once they move into residential care, a sexual relationship is often frowned upon, Medical News Today reported.
According to the AFP, "For residents with dementia, sexuality is viewed with even greater anxiety, either being labelled 'inappropriate' or a 'challenging' behavior or as a risk to the resident," said the Australian authors of a paper.
"It is important to remember that dementia is defined in stages, with early or mild dementia manifesting as mild forgetfulness or confusion that is often mistaken for a normal part of ageing," they wrote.
"Clearly there is a significant difference between the capabilities of a person with mild dementia and one with advanced or final-stage dementia and, therefore, a single approach to sexuality and 'people with dementia' is inappropriate."
The team acknowledged the difficulties in determining the legal threshold for informed consent in elderly patients with dementia, but argued this should not be an excuse for denying them their rights.
Geri Hall, a clinical nurse specialist at the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix, agrees. Hall told ABC news that demented or not, the baby boomers are not going to give up their right to a healthy sex life.
"We're not going to put up with it," said Hall, a baby boomer herself. "We need to be open about the fact sex is something that happens wherever people live, and we can't just take away people's rights."
"If, then, individuals with dementia are able to make decisions about their clothing, meals, schedule, healthcare, whether to participate in research and other aspects of their daily living," the authors conclude, "why not sexuality?"
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