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Seniors, Sex & Dementia: Managing Inappropriate Behavior

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One of the most awkward and challenging of dementia symptoms are those that result in inappropriate sexual behavior. One family caregiver told the story of when her dad invited his brother, who had dementia, over for lunch.

“When I greeted him, we hugged,” the family caregiver said. “But, to my surprise, the hug lingered while he ran his hands down my back. I didn’t know how to react so I changed the subject. Then, as I was bringing lunch to the table, my uncle commented about my pretty legs. After the second incident, I realized this was not the action of my uncle, but the disease. I went back to the kitchen and took a few deep breaths. As they day went on, I was prepared to distract my uncle if anything happened again.”

It’s a known fact that certain medical conditions—like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease—can cause seniors to engage in inappropriate sexual behavior. This development can be disturbing if this is happening with your loved one.

Defining Inappropriate Sexual Behavior
Let’s be clear about one thing: not all sexual behavior by seniors is “inappropriate.” Many seniors enjoy healthy sex lives well into older age. A study by the New England Journal of Medicine found 25 percent of seniors over age 75 are having sex, and about 50 percent of those between ages 65 and 75 are also sexually active.

No matter the age of the adult participants, consensual sexual behaviors can be considered normal and healthy—as long as the participants retain the cognitive ability to consent.

When Sexual Behavior Becomes Inappropriate
Unfortunately, cognitive decline can cause seniors to engage in inappropriate sexual behaviors outside of a loving relationship or in unsuitable environments. Stressful, right?

Let’s look at three common situations and how to cope with them. You can also find additional tips and suggestions for managing inappropriate behavior on

  1. Masturbating in public

“My father had vascular dementia. He started masturbating in public. Of course, I was appalled when I was told this and then I witnessed it. (I guess a part of me was hoping that I was being told incorrect info.)”

If your loved one who is fondling himself in public, start with a medical examination. In seniors who can’t communicate well, public masturbation may signal a medical issue, such as pain or a urinary tract infection. These medical causes may be ruled out (or treated) with a physical exam conducted by a skilled geriatric practitioner.

The caregiver above found that a trip to the doctor did the trick. She said, “I involved his MD, who examined him, and then gave him a low dose of an anti-depressant medicine. The behavior stopped.”

  1. Inappropriate or unwelcome touching of others

“My mom seems to have a problem sometimes. My hubby will give her a hug as he always has. But occasionally she puts her hands where they shouldn't be. So hubby tries to avoid her… which confuses her when she wants that hug.”

Sexual inappropriateness with dementia certainly is not limited to men. As this comment illustrates, women can develop wandering hands, too.

One way to cope with wandering hands during embraces is to develop a new way to hug. Follow these steps:

  • As you approach the senior, stop a short distance away and raise both hands in front of you in a “stop”-like gesture. Smile and make eye contact.
  • Verbally encourage the senior to raise her hands in the same position.
  • Move forward and place your palms against hers. Quickly interlace your fingers to hold onto her hands.
  • Now that the senior’s hands are secured, you can guide their hands toward your shoulders as you lean in for a ‘hug,’ to touch cheeks or to give your loved one a kiss.
  • When the embrace is finished, back away and release the senior’s hands.

This method allows a senior to enjoy the physical touch of family members while ensuring hands don’t inadvertently wander where they shouldn’t go.

  1. Stripping in public

Because Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias reduce a person’s inhibitions, seniors with these conditions may not realize it’s inappropriate to take their clothes off in public. This behavior may not be sexual in nature at all.

Seniors with dementia may disrobe in public for a variety of reasons, from feeling too warm to experiencing an urgent need to urinate. If family members can figure out what triggers the behavior, they may be able to resolve the underlying issue.

In the meantime, manage the activity as it occurs. Take a shawl or throw with you to cover a loved one as the clothes come off. Stay calm and try not to shame your loved one. Understand that you cannot necessarily control this behavior.

Keep the Conversation Going

You may be reluctant to discuss this subject. That’s why it will be helpful to find others who may be going through the same issues. Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association [] to find a support group in your area. Or, join an online community like the Remember For Alzheimer’s Facebook community for inspiration and support.

Last revised: July 1, 2015

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. January 24, 2021 at 2:24 am | Posted by Donna petersen

    My dad asked my daughter if he could go down on her. We as a family are devastated and don’t know how to approach this. My mother, his wife, has just died 1 week ago. We have not even laid her to rest as yet. We are sickened by this and feel like we want to turn our back on him. Please advise. Mom was 98 yrs old and dad is 90 and in assisted living home.


    • February 13, 2021 at 6:53 am | Posted by susan

      It sounds like your dad has dementia and probably goes in and out of reality. Before my dad died he was having some dementia. An example of the effect on him is we were watching TV and he seemed to know the time and place. A commercial came on for an old movie from the 1950s which starred one of his favorite actresses. He became very confused and asked me if it was a new movie coming out. He almost said I thought she was dead but he stopped himself. I could tell that he was trying to hide his confusion. Shortly after that, he asked me if I was my mother's daughter. Your dad may have time and place issues. There may be times that he doesn't even realize that he and his granddaughter are related. There may be times that he thinks it is 40 or 50 years ago. My guess is your dad never really talked that way. Dementia can cause inappropriate sexual behavior. My guess is that your dad may be experiencing that. If so, it is most likely the disease talking and not him.


  2. December 31, 2020 at 12:40 pm | Posted by Lynwood Hinderberger

    I agree with you


  3. October 28, 2020 at 3:56 pm | Posted by Victoria Thornbury

    I'm having an issue with my father-in-law. We spend weekends at my husbands parents house to help out around the house. This past weekend he came into my bathroom, while I was naked and getting into the shower. He started hugging me and saying very inappropriate things. I pushed him out of the bathroom and told him that was not okay. I had made a decision to not tell my Husband. His father is his hero. I lasted 2 days without telling him. I was just so overwhelmed with what had happened. My husband is furious and has not calmed down. He wants to confront his father. I don't know if that is a good idea. I don't think his father will really remember the incident well and if he does he is going to be so ashamed. My question is; Should he be confronted or should we just be aware of this and take appropriate steps to avoid further inappropriate moments.


  4. October 12, 2020 at 10:03 pm | Posted by Jilly_K

    What can be done about an elderly parent who is acting like a love-sick teenager toward a much younger neighbor (who has been nothing but friendly and helpful), yet the parent is still married to a spouse with alzheimers, and the neighbor is also married to their own spouse?


  5. October 12, 2020 at 5:31 am | Posted by Mary

    I have just been told that my dad said something to one of his careers that was very inappropriate I feel sick and disgusting feel like he makes me sick he has never done anything like this before he is almost 90


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