Sex among Demented Spurs Elderly Care Group to Call for Policies -BYLN- by Bryan Gruley Bloomberg News

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 18, 2013 | Go to article overview

Sex among Demented Spurs Elderly Care Group to Call for Policies -BYLN- by Bryan Gruley Bloomberg News


An association of professionals who work at hundreds of elderly-care facilities in the United States is calling on the homes to reconsider their policies -- or, in most cases, lack of policies -- on geriatric sex.

AMDA, formerly known as the American Medical Directors Association, said it took the action after articles published by Bloomberg News exposed the under-examined issues and consequences of sex between the demented at U.S. facilities.

Some nursing home companies are already reviewing their policies in light of the stories. Hebrew Health Care, a nonprofit operator of a variety of elderly-care services in West Hartford, Conn., started developing a policy and training in September, said Pamela Atwood, its director of dementia-care services.

"What our organization would love to see is,assuming that intimacy and sexuality is normal, because it is," Atwood said. "We're looking at taking care of the baby boomers. These folks burned their bras and developed the pill. Do we really think they're not going to be sexual?"

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are widely unprepared to deal with sex among expanding populations of residents with dementia, partly because administrators, staff and families are reluctant to discuss or even acknowledge elderly sexuality, AMDA concluded after a survey of physicians and other medical professionals who work with elderly care facilities across the U.S.

As the baby boom generation ages, "there is a growing need for change in policies and institutional practices focused on intimacy and sexual behavior," Columbia, Md.-based AMDA stated. "While the mandate is clearly recognized, silence and invisibility regarding this issue seem the prevailing paradigm."

The recent AMDA survey and interviews with caregivers suggest the issue is a low priority for most facilities. Only 13 percent of survey respondents said they work with facilities that provide staff training on sexual behavior, which the AMDA said means employees are "significantly undertrained." Fewer than one in four respondents said their facilities have policies addressing the problem, according to the survey. Almost half of the respondents didn't know whether their facilities have policies.

"Sex and death, no one wants to discuss them," said one health care professional commenting anonymously in the survey. "We need to talk about them."

AMDA represents 5,500 physicians, nurse practitioners and other professionals who provide medical care to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospices and other elderly care institutions. Each of the nation's 16,000 licensed nursing homes is required by law to have a medical director.

The organization commissioned the survey of 121 senior and 54 younger members in response to the Bloomberg News stories, published in July. Many of those who were surveyed work at multiple facilities, with all states represented. At AMDA's request, Bloomberg News made suggestions for the survey that were reflected in three of the 14 questions.

The first of the Bloomberg News stories concerned a 78-year-old divorced man with dementia who was found having sex with an 87-year-old married woman with dementia at an Iowa nursing home. The home's administrator decided the encounter was consensual. State regulators disagreed and cited the home for not reporting the episode. The administrator and nursing director were fired, and the male resident was forced to move to another facility almost two hours away.

The second story focused on the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, N.Y., a nursing home that has had a policy on sexuality since 1995. The home isn't related to Hebrew Health Care in West Hartford.

Based on the survey's results, AMDA is urging elderly care facilities to consider installing formal training programs and policies.

"Certainly as dementias increase, I would encourage all nursing homes to at least begin the conversation," AMDA Executive Director Christopher Laxton said in an interview. …

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