Dear Family Advisor

My father sounds like a naughty child when he makes excuses for his sexual advances to caregivers.

Last updated: Aug 15, 2009

My 94-year-old father has lived with my brother and sister-in-law since my mother passed away nearly two years ago. Lately, he's begun making sexually inappropriate advances towards his home caregivers. Mentally, he's still sharp, although he's had a number of mini-strokes.

Sexually inappropriate behavior is completely out of character for the man he once was. We've spoken with him about this and he just doesn't seem to "get it." He makes excuses and sounds like a naughty child. We feel like the parents trying to instill morals in a child.

As embarrassing and upsetting as this behavior can be, this problem isn't about morals. You can't make your dad "straighten up" no matter how many times you scold him or correct him.

Try to view your dad's behavior as a symptom of a disease. His brain has been altered -- those mini-strokes have caused some sort of damage -- and the part of his brain that monitors his urges and behaviors has been compromised.

All of us -- including the most devout spiritual leaders -- have sexual thoughts, images, and impulses deep in our brain. Our higher selves know what's appropriate to say and do, so we keep ourselves in check. When that part of our brain isn't functioning fully, it can no longer be our guardian. As much as we'd like to think we wouldn't be like that -- we might. You're going to have to come to terms with this.

As hard as this is to hear, you need to accept that your dad might behave this way from now on. In a way, you're going to have to go through the grieving process and let go of the dad you had so you can love the dad you have. He needs you, and you'll have to separate past from present in order to cope with the change.

Knowing that your dad can't help himself may actually make it easier for you to deal with him. If you haven't seen a neurologist yet, or you don't think your father has been given a proper diagnosis, then find a doctor you have faith in.

Your dad's situation is an opportunity for you to show what you're made of. Can you love him and react with patience, firmness, and kindness even when he says or does something shocking? I'm sure you can.

This has undoubtedly thrown you for a loop. At times you'll have to be tough and firm, even set aside your role as daughter to be the caregiver. Your job is to keep him safe and provide for his care, which may mean turning off that "family connection" emotionally during a rough patch.

Do some reading on brain disorder behaviors or attend a workshop or seminar. There are excellent techniques for managing a volatile situation. A caregiving support group can also help you learn how to handle this. It takes work and consistency, but you'll be surprised how much better things go once you have a course of action.

You also need to consider that your family may not be able to meet your dad's needs much longer. It's so hard for families to handle the ramifications of caring for a loved one with diminished brain function. You can exhaust yourself to the bitter edge, let your heart break, and damage your health -- and it still won't be enough.

If there's any way you and your family can hire additional care or get community care or respite care, do so. Healthcare professionals know how to handle this type of condition, and the right ones can make such a difference in your life.

My heart aches for you and for the millions of others who face the fact that their loved ones can't "be" themselves any more. Reach out and ask for all the help and support you can. Hold on to each other and keep your dad's memory close to your heart.

You and your brother and sister-in-law are now the keepers of your family. Tell your stories to one another. Write down your memories, or write letters to your dad and place pictures of him around the house. Remember the man who raised you and the man who needs you now.