"We are sexual beings all the way to the tomb," says Dr. Karen Hicks, adjunct professor of Human Sexuality and Women's Reproductive Health at Lehigh University.
She'll also tell you that sexuality and the quest for intimacy doesn't simply disappear when you're mentally challenged.
has been offering seminars on this topic for staff in assisted-living and nursing facilities and has found that most of them want to learn how to better respond to the sexual needs of their residents, as do family members.
Here is some of the astute advice she
shared with me during a recent interview:
People with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia can give permission for sharing sexual intimacy with another consenting adult.
It might not be in words or in formalized statements but rather it will be conveyed through nonverbal acts such as holding hands, touching, smiling or flirting.
will be the first to remind you that this type of nonverbal communicating isn't all that different from how most people signal their interest in having sex with another.
advises staff and families to ask themselves, "Does the act of sexual intimacy [physical and emotional] bring joy and cause no harm to anyone directly involved in the contact or indirectly involved?
suggests that each of us take the time to reflect upon our own feelings, values and beliefs about sex and intimacy before deciding what to do in response to an older individual's appropriate or inappropriate sexual behavior.
Sometimes we impose our beliefs or react to our own discomfort rather than fully appreciating the needs of others.
Couples, whether they are consenting adults within a facility or a well spouse visiting his
loved one, should be provided private space to physically express their love for each other.
Institutions make it rather difficult for people to practice intimacy.
"We seem to assume that when you enter a long-term care facility you either have been or will be celibate," Hicks