My husband's dementia causes him to make sexual advances toward others -- and it's turning me off from wanting to be his caregiver.

Last updated: May 18, 2009

My husband was recently diagnosed with dementia. But already he's begun sexually inappropriate behavior that's a 360-degree change from the man I married. He acts out in stores to strangers and at home to other women in the family. It's devastating me and hindering my desire to continue caring for him.

I could tell you all day that it's the disease (whether Alzheimer's or another cause of dementia) talking, not your husband, but I think much of what you're experiencing is grief. We think of grieving as something we do after our loved one has died, but grief comes into play any time life or a relationship changes so much that the old way has essentially died. In many ways, you probably feel, your marriage and your husband are gone.

Sexually based outbursts and behaviors aren't unusual for those with dementia, including Alzheimer's. It's the brain getting "stuck" in one area that it's hard to get out of. Knowing that this is common (and nobody's fault) may help you feel less alone. His behavior in no way reflects on his character or your marriage. All of us have inappropriate thoughts rambling around in our heads that we're able to control -- but what if we couldn't? Wouldn't we want our loved ones to forgive us and help us?

You can either let it get to you or you can slowly learn to sort of "float above it." Tune it out, divert, correct, and then try your best to laugh at the craziness of life. This may come over time after you've gotten used to his bizarre behavior and learned how to manage it.

Not least, I hope you'll find a safe, quiet place and allow yourself to cry "”- or scream, whatever you need to do to begin to process all the changes you've been experiencing, and will continue to experience. But don't isolate yourself because you're embarrassed. It's easy to pull in to try to protect our loved ones, but we hurt ourselves in the process.

You may indeed need to relocate your husband to a care home at some point. As you learn how to cope with the behaviors this disease causes, you also need to use this time to collect support and information about alternatives. As his wife and now caregiver, you can't stop; you can only pause to collect yourself.

Now let's get practical about the immediate problem. Dementia experts recommend several approaches when handling inappropriate behavior; try each to see what's effective with your husband.

  • Diversion is the easiest tactic. Change the subject, clap your hands, turn on the television or music, call out to someone across the room, ask a question "¦ anything that will disrupt his thinking (and mouth!).

  • Physically move your husband. Guide him away or, if he uses a wheelchair, move him to break the visual cues that are triggering his behavior.

  • Create space between your husband and other people. When you walk him into a room, create a safe barrier of space so that he can't "reach out and touch someone," especially if he's a "grabber."

  • Give him something to do with his hands. Some people with dementia crave textures, like furs, tweed, cotton. In later stages of the disease, for some people it works to hold a pillow, stuffed animal, or a blanket that has buttons sewed on it. Even a piece of Velcro he can smash together and then rip apart can help.

  • Matter-of-factly tell adults to excuse him. Some people choose to explain, "My husband has dementia," while others don't ---- that choice is yours. You can simply ask them to excuse his behavior or advise them to step back a bit, with a smile on your face and an easygoing attitude.

  • If nothing else works, "shock" him a bit. Raise your voice and firmly tell him, "No!" Grab his hands and put them back in his lap. Look him in the eye and let him know the behavior will not be tolerated.

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4 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

8 months ago

Thanks for the advice, I am a caregiver and have mainly had autistic clients the oldest is 27. I have recently started with a client that is 83 has dementia and the first day he meet me he asked for a hug and then feels me up. So now I know NO hugs then later ask me questions about sex. All these things just really caught me off guard and I was uncomfortable. But I figure just protect my self not to get in a position for these things to happen. I'm sure I still have a lot to learn hard part is to not let these things bother me and let them roll off my shoulders.

Anonymous said 9 months ago

My father has been hyper-sexual his entire life,extending to multiple affairs while married to my mother, molesting me and my sister, etc. He has never been remorseful or apologized, only stating that he sure was sorry (when confronted bout 20 years ago by me) and blamed work, stress, alcohol. He tells filthy stories from crude jokes to stories about sex with animals. I have spent my entire childhood and adult life hearing (and seeing) about his conquests. Now that he is 89 and deep within dementia/Alzheimer's, he is even more sexual than ever. I am the only surviving family member and nursing home costs prohibit admitting him (his finances at that danged stage where they are not enuf for Medicare to pay, not enuf in his savings to pay for nursing home care full time). He needs assistance for all daily tasks and we can only afford to pay for a day care a few times a week. I am a 59 yr old married female, his daughter. I have quit work to live in his home to take care of him. To let his grandchildren know about this would devastate them so I have no options. My husband knows, but he is also busy 24/7 taking care of our home and his own widowed mother who is now exhibiting signs of dementia, my husband tries to be here as often as he can. My husband makes sure I get as much rest as I can. My father hits up every cashier, waitress, stranger, my mother in law, day care workers, nurses, it doesn't matter.....constantly sex sex sex talk and not-so-subtle suggestions to all. He's tried to get me into his bed, and I've even had to push his hand away as he tries to lift my shirt (I only wear pants around him since he always asks me to lift my skirt/dresses and now I wear 2 shirts always and don't even wear a dress to church anymore). I sleep with the door locked. He will block me into a room with his wheelchair and refuses to move (with that all familair leer on his face) so I can leave the room, telling me to give him kisses...until I get LOUD and make him move his wheelchair. I have talked to my doctor, and to his doctor, who scripted him mild Ativan, but it does very little to calm him down. The only way I can keep his advances down to a low roar is to ALWAYS be awake, dressed, and out of my bedroom before he wakes up. I never go into any bedroom or bathroom unless my husband is here with me or unless my father is where he can't follow me (like if he is in the lower level living room and he can't maneuver his wheelchair up the ramp by himself). I have made myself aware to not even lean over in front of him to prevent him from having nasty comments or thoughts. He is like this almost every day, at least 3-4 instances each day. Enuf to drive you mad. I keep telling myself "he can't afford the nursing home, the grand kids will not inherit a dime, he will lose his home and property and nothing left to inheriit, just hang in there". Bottom line is to try to remove any opportunities for your father to "hit on you" (sorry for being so crude) and to try distracting him as often as it takes. I know that many on line sites will state that the patient merely wants human touch and confuses it with sexual touching so divert the sexual touch with a warm kind touch on the arm. Try doingthat with a peson like my father and he will grab your hand and try to direct it elsewhere....the only way you can safely touch him is when you are standing behind the wheelchair and touch his shoulders....imagine trying to get him dressed/undressed for baths, dressed for the day, dressed into his pajamas...nightmare stuff... Many family members of dementia patients find this a very new disturbing character of their parent with dementia; with my father, it is only an escalation of how he always has been. As awful as it sounds and as mean as it is, when he starts being crude to a cashier/anyone, I will first gently try to stop him, touching his arm, looking at him directly, and quietly say "this is rude, pls stop it". If he persists (and he normally does), I just say out loud "Sorry, he's 89 and has Alzheimers and Dementia, just ignore him, he's just a nasty, perverted ole man. Dad leave this nice lady alone, she doesn't want anything to do with someone as old and feeble as you are" and it will embarrass him to death, but it will stop him in his tracks. I've tried every other method for years and nothing has worked other than direct full attack on his age and mental status. Now to clear my smeared name from this post <g>, pls know that I keep his home immaculate, I cook almost every single day, I take care of his bills and he has never been healthier in the past 20 years since I have been taking care of him. I get him regular doctor visits, church services, family visits, make sure he gets lots of phone calls to keep him occupied, we play cards and dominoes and just drive around to get out of the house. His clothes are ironed and his bathroom stays clean. I DO care for him;he is my father. And I refuse to let his past and his present prevent me from being a good person and care giver. I protect him from greedy family members. But back to advice: just try to keep yourself out of these situations as often as you can and make sure you find time for YOU. I'm so sorry you are now going thru this; it is hard on you, on your family. But I promise you that you worry about this more than your dad does; he forgets and lives in the now. So pls try to not dwell on this anymore than you have to.

over 3 years ago

Rent the movie 'Away from her' with Gordon Pinsent and Olympia Dukakis. There are some great insights on the disease without the typical stereotypes.

over 5 years ago

My father exhibited this behavior when his multi-infarct dementia reached a critical stage. He was given Tagamet, a drug intended for ulcers, but which reduces libido as a side effect. It worked.

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