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Posted March 18, 2008

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Elderly Behavior: Dealing with Elderly Dad?s Sexual Exuberance

Q. My father is 92 and has a caregiver 12 hours per day. My mother lives with him. He seems to have become obsessed with one of the female caregivers. He told me he would marry his caregiver, if the law permitted it. He recently had his catheter removed and has asked the caregiver what Viagra would do for him. He makes many suggestive comments to the caregiver. How should this situation be dealt with?

Greg R., Martinez, California.

A. How sad for your mother to watch these changes, which I am going to make an unfounded leap and attribute to some level of dementia. The fact that you are asking such a question leads me to believe that the behavior you describe is not typical of the man your father once was.

As dementia advances, social inhibitions often also decline. Yet normal sexual feelings are still very much present. When this happens, the person with dementia is simply more open to spontaneously saying and doing things they would never, ever have done or said under normal circumstances.

The best advice I can give in circumstances such as these is to simply "let it go." If your father's caregiver is experienced with dementia, she will not be offended. Do keep an eye out to be sure she is not unintentionally encouraging your father by joking with him or responding inappropriately, however.

Changing the subject, "redirecting" the conversation, or even leaving the room usually do more to reduce inappropriate behavior than arguing or correcting, which often only make things worse.

It may be comforting for both you and your mother to read some of the recent news stories about retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and her husband, who has Alzheimer's disease. He has found romance in the facility where he now lives. While his behavior may not be as "out there" as your father's, the concept is the same (search online for "Sandra Day O'Connor" + Alzheimer's and you will find several articles).

Also, be as supportive as you possibly can to your mother, who may need a strong shoulder to cry on now and again as she watches her husband decline in ways she never could have imagined.

This answer is provided by Molly Shomer, MSSW, LMSW, a family caregiving specialist and licensed geriatric care manager. Molly, a nationally recognized expert on eldercare issues, is the author of The Insider's Guide to Assisted Living. Her website is www.eldercareteam.com, and she can be reached at molly@eldercareteam.com.

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