While the topic of sexuality within the dementia care community may seem taboo, we are all sexual beings with the need for intimate fulfillment – no matter our age, ability or orientation. This stands true for caregivers and their partners affected by dementia-related disorders.
As a caregiver of a spouse or significant other, intimacy is still a vital component of your relationship but will change as the disease progresses. Below are ways you can cope while still nurturing your connection.
Reasons to Continue Your Sexual Connection
Dementia forever changes the ways in which romantic partners relate to each other, but the need to feel emotionally and physically connected continues as we age. Sex in a relationship is part of how we show closeness and is a shared experience that can be a source of comfort, security and reassurance. Plus, a healthy sex life can not only strengthen your bond but can also improve quality of life and physical health for you and your loved one, offering numerous benefits which can include:
- lower blood pressure
- improved immune function
- reduced stress
- and much more
Because of the benefits above, if the desire, willingness and physical ability for both parties is present, couples are often encouraged to continue to express their sexuality in whatever way both partners are comfortable.
Even within a marriage, no one should be forced or pressured into any intimate activity. Before any sexual event, clear consent must be granted by both parties. This can be done verbally or nonverbally, but physical arousal alone is not enough. As someone who has been with them for some time and understands their usual behavior, you should feel confident that you can recognize consent as well as any signs of distress. But at any point during the activity, you must stop at any sign of reluctance. What if you are the spouse who does not desire to participate? Your wishes should be honored as well; however, they may not easily understand or accept your decision. Do not try to argue or rationalize with your loved one – instead try to distract or redirect their attention.
Other Ways to Remain Intimate
Intercourse may not always be the best option in every instance – or for every couple. In addition to dementia affecting your loved one’s cognitive state and ability to effectively communicate – as well as their sexual desire, behaviors and needs – medical reasons and certain medications can negatively affect their drive and even enjoyment. Your role and responsibilities as their caregiver can also impact your own drive and desire to maintain a sexual relationship. No matter the case, there are other ways you can stay connected with your loved one. Examples include:
- Physical touch: Dancing, sitting side by side, holding hands, cuddling, kissing or hugging, and giving body or hand/foot massages
- Personal care: Bathing or showering together, combing/brushing hair, applying lotion and helping feed them
- Emotional bonding: Assuring them that they are safe, telling them that you love them, complimenting them and reminiscing about the good times
Sex can be a difficult subject to discuss, but it’s important to seek support from someone you can trust. Still unsure whether sex is right for your relationship? Be sure to consult with your physician and get guidance from additional resources, such as our free support groups or educational caregiver classes. Check out our calendar for upcoming offerings.