“You just made me throw-up in my mouth a little.”
“How about old people just stop having sex?”
These are a few of the negative stereotypical responses, including “funny” photos of diapered seniors, that I received at a social media site. Some are too vulgar to print here. I was attempting to initiate an intelligent discussion on the life-threatening topic of older adults and the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No one took this matter seriously. Disgust and ignorance are still perpetuated by many regarding adults having sex during their senior years.
Sometimes healthcare workers also reflect these biases, particularly regarding older residents with dementia. Examples are discomfort, denial, and other reluctance by some staff members when they are confronted with the sexual behavior of older residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. A study involving an extensive search of electronic databases of nursing staff and reported in the International Journal of Nursing Studiesrevealed the following:
- Nursing staff shows rather positive attitudes toward later-life sexuality.
- The extent of the staff’s knowledge regarding sexuality in the aged seemed to be very limited.
- Staff caregivers hold rather conservative attitudes toward sexuality of institutionalized elderly.
- Responses to residents’ sexual behavior were influenced by the nursing staff’s own level of comfort related to sexuality issues and the culture within the institution where they work.
More research and education programs are needed on this topic in order to foster positive attitudes about sexuality of older adults. This video titled Freedom of Sexual Expression presents sexual expression as a basic human right for all residents, including those with dementia.