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Caring Currents

Do Parents With Dementia Need a "Sexual Power of Attorney"?

By , Caring.com contributing editor
Last updated: June 12, 2008
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Nobody likes to think about their parents', um, sex lives. Once dementia enters the picture -- bringing so many other concerns to deal with -- you might think sex, at least, is a moot issue. Not so fast, suggests an illuminating article in Slate. "Dorothy," 82, and "Bob," 95, were residents of a long-term care facility who fell in love and became sexually active. Both have dementia.

On their side: Relatives and staff who saw the pair as happy, healthy, and (critical to old age) socially reinvigorated -- and who perhaps wondered about their own rights to sexual pleasure and autonomy in their later years.

On the other side: Those who were horrified by the affair and variously worried about heart attack, socially and morally inappropriate behavior, and gold-digging.

In the grey middle: Concerns about informed consent, given the dementia, and about the role of the nursing home to balance the needs of sociability, safety, and privacy.

"Who controls the intimate lives of people with dementia?" the article asks. "Unless specific provision has been made, their families do."

Bob's dispproving son moved his dad elsewhere without warning him. Dorothy drooped and, in a lucid moment, asked her daughter to publicize her plight.

Most families find it hard enough to talk about financial and medical powers of attorney. Can you imagining hammering out with your parent his or her sexual rights in the event of mental decline?

Forget me not image by Flickr user Umme Salma Hamdani, used under the Creative Commons attribution license.

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