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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 HelpForAlzheimersFamilies.com.

  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 [https://www.alz.org] 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. May 22, 2020 at 7:13 pm | Posted by Jean Thompson

    I came to this site for some advice as my husband is 82 and has many health problem however since this Lock down it has been so Hard to cope with his behaviour. I see the signs of Dementia. Morning to night he constantly wants to be kissing and Wanting me to feel his genitals and hugging me no matter what I am busy with. He just won’t leave me alone.we have been married 60 yrs and did have good sex over the yrs . But I feel violated most of the time when he comes up behind me and feels all over me..

    Reply

  2. March 18, 2020 at 2:12 pm | Posted by sex and the city 2 imdb

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    Reply

  3. February 23, 2020 at 10:47 pm | Posted by Charlotte

    My mom is 93. Mild dementia. To others a sweet elderly lady. To me, she makes jabs & ugly comments. She is the most negative person that I have ever known. She wants me around 24 X 7 and hunts me down when I’m out if her sight. Resents my spending time with my husband and wants to go everywhere with me and sits in the car. We used to be best friends. She says she worries about me but she’s worried about herself & how my decisions or my health may affect her! Now I am so frustrated, resentful and have to really work hard to hold my temper. It’s so hard!

    Reply

  4. February 20, 2020 at 9:58 pm | Posted by Harold

    I enjoy your writing style truly enjoying this site.

    Reply

  5. January 6, 2020 at 1:39 pm | Posted by J

    Hi, im not sure if this site is still active but hey its worth a shot. Ill tell you a bit about me first: I started working in the hotel place because a friend of mine works there too, most of my co workers are very humorous and nice, especially this one cook, i already knew him a bit since he was a friend of my father, now he has a wife who was sadly diagnosed with Alzheimers a year ago at the ripe age of 51. This woman is absolutely amazing like i love her too bits, She’s nice, shes caring, shes actually really talkative if you take your time to talk too her and she’s generally a funny person. We talked a bit during my shift and we got along like really well so i said i would love too spend time with her/help around the household if i could. (Her husband is really busy, they don’t have children and they also dont have a caretaker, at least not to my knowledge so she’s alone at home a lot of the times) So i got around too hanging out with her and as i already semi stated we both enjoy each others company a lot. Now for the problem: She has been stripping in front of me, saying she wants me to touch her breast, saying she wants to touch mine, slipping a hand between my legs when we sit next to each other. I don't know what to do about it and its making me stay away from her, i know its not fully under her control that shes acting the way she has been since she doesn’t always do it when I’m over and she sometimes beats herself up about it or looks too the ground/walk away (which she does when she’s ashamed of herself) when i confront her about the whole ordeal. Im thinking of telling her husband, i hope this won’t mean I won’t be able too see her anymore though like as i said i still really like this woman like shes cool and i think she likes me too, like she runs up too me when we meet on the street too give me a big ol bear hug.

    Reply

  6. January 1, 2020 at 12:23 am | Posted by Judy

    My father has parkinson's disease and started having sundowners syndrome as well as some dementia that is probably connected to the parkinson's. Tonight my father got up from sleeping came in and asked if he could ask me a question. I said yes, and then he said. May I hold your breasts. I was in complete shock and knew this was not my dad saying this. He has always been a very conservative christian and would never say that to anyone, especially his own daughter. I told him it was inappropriate and he said, "no it's completely normal and then told me I had beautiful breasts" In all my life he has never said or inferred or come close to ever saying anything like this and after I put him back to bed, I just started crying and falling apart. What do I do? I am so devastated! And so lost about how to handle this.

    Reply

    • April 22, 2020 at 7:56 am | Posted by Mandy

      I'm so sorry to hear of your traumatic experience with your Dad. I must have been absolutely devastating. Please, please remember, that this is not your dad behaving like this, it is the disease causing him to be so inappropriate. I know how difficult this must be, but treat him like a wayward, naughty, much-loved child. Tell him that his behaviour is unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated. But remember to let him know that he's loved, but his behaviour isn't. I look after my 87 year old aunt who has lewy body dementia. She has times when she is so rude and hard to handle, and in these times she also has very inappropriate sexual behaviour. She will masturbate quite openly. I "punish" her behaviour by not giving her sweets or biscuits with her tea (sigh). I speak to her sternly and tell her what is not acceptable. Whenever I confront her masturbation, she closes her eyes and pretends she can't hear me. So I lay down the rules and "punish" her behaviour for the day. It doesn't really help much. But it makes me feel better. I feel more in control. I just tell myself that this isn't really her and try and love her despite the behaviour. Please be strong, don't break under the pressure - as immense as it is!!

      Reply

  7. October 29, 2019 at 5:50 pm | Posted by Candyce Ayala

    I have a sweet 81 y. o. Female neighbor who did the whole tongue in mouth suddenly. I was upset. I confronted her; she had been drinking a fair amount of wine and said she had no recall and was herself appalled. A week later she told me my husband had made a tongue in mouth comment to her. My guy is known for his firm boundaries. He was very quiet when I shared this ...then he suggested onset dementia and 3 recent falls she had. Still waiting to learn if ..yuk..more of the saga plays out. Hubby keeping distance. Sigh.

    Reply

  8. October 18, 2019 at 5:25 pm | Posted by Lori A Chester

    My elderly father has begun to tell me the crudest jokes when we are alone. He uses awful language and crude words for body parts. He's never done this before. He's also become very racist in front of me. The other day he came into the kitchen without his shirt on, which was VERY odd. I felt very uncomfortable. Is this an early sign of dementia? He's 79 and not in good shape, and eats a horrible diet. He's mobile right now but getting weaker quickly

    Reply

    • December 4, 2019 at 6:42 pm | Posted by Ken E

      It sounds like that inappropriate behavior could very well be symptomatic of dementia or alzheimer's. I am in the early stages myself and, although I have not given in to them, I find that more crude language comes to mind than ever before. Also, despite being 79 years old, I find myself having a great deal of sexual thoughts and feelings. Fortunately, these things have only been in my mind. Both of these things are not at all characteristic of my personality. I attribute this to the changes taking place in my brain. Good luck.

      Reply

  9. July 29, 2019 at 2:45 pm | Posted by Joleen Gutter

    @Annie, considering the number of unhappy marriages around me, I would say men being duped by looks and charm has contributed to the singleness of some very lovely single ladies in our community. Why should they feel badly? It is the contentious wife that should feel ashamed. http://www.apsense.com/article/unanswered-questions-home-care-nursing-services.html

    Reply

  10. June 26, 2019 at 1:07 am | Posted by Karen B

    I work with males and females who are at various stages of dementia. Sometimes the verbal boundaries given today are gone tomorrow, sometimes not. But that's where I start. "I'll give you a hug, we all need hugs, but just a hug." Another man makes rather distinct suggestive comments. "Why don't you come into my bed?" This man's dementia is very clear, but he does not seem to realize he is in a wheel chair, and that a stroke has stolen most of his right side. A rather proper woman danced suggestively around her living room, surprising everyone. "I have nice breasts." I just keep remembering that it is the condition, not the person.

    Reply

  11. June 12, 2019 at 7:03 pm | Posted by Bobbie Sena

    Really terrifying info! None of my ancestors ever had any kind of dementia even though they all lived into their late 9o's or early 100's.I am now 85, strong, healthy, pain free, and med free. i see so many elderly friends younger than me deteriorating mentally, and it is sad. However, they all maintain decency and dignity. I feel that possibly the overuse of tranquilizers and narcotic pain meds is causing what seems to be a dementia epidemic. I have thrown away a lot of meds prescriptions without ever filling them. I pray God will protect my beautiful brain.

    Reply

  12. May 8, 2019 at 1:04 pm | Posted by Dayna

    My grandfather hits in me, flirts and tells me he wants to have sex with me. I love him so very much and want to spend time with him but dont know how to handle this. Any advise?

    Reply

    • July 14, 2019 at 4:35 pm | Posted by toni

      That is very difficult to deal with. Be careful and set very clear boundaries with yourself and him. Make sure you feel safe and do not be afraid to discuss this with a trusted friend or medical team. Tell him this is not appropriate and you do not want to have the discussion.

      Reply

  13. April 23, 2019 at 1:41 pm | Posted by Nichole Mcdonald

    So, as I read this. I am flustered She is on a Memory Care Unit! This is absolutely inappropriate! I’m sickened by this. Is there a patient advocate? It’s memory care not a brothel

    Reply

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