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How To Handle Dementia Patients Exhibiting Sexually Inappropriate Behaviors

Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells which interrupts the communication between cells causing adverse effects to our thinking, behavior and feelings, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Dementia affects parts of the brain that controls a person’s ability to control their own responses and actions. In fact, in the early stages of the disease, intimate relationships may be affected by changes in the level of emotional connection and sexual desire. As the disease progresses, some inappropriate behaviors may start to manifest themselves in different ways. 

Many older adults with dementia may begin to use inappropriate sexual behavior to communicate their need for different emotions. You may notice your loved one beginning to touch, hug, or kiss others, even strangers. They may touch their private areas, masturbate around others and use vulgar language or make sexual advances. It’s important to remember that these changes are caused by the disease and is not something your loved one has the ability to control. For many older adults with dementia, these behaviors may act as a sign of discomfort, pain, confusion, loneliness or signify the need for affection and physical touch. Although it’s important to remember that your loved one isn’t in control when these behaviors arise, there are some ways to cope and lessen the frequency of these inappropriate sexual behaviors. 

Ways to Cope with Inappropriate Sexual Behaviors in Dementia 

There are many different ways to help your loved one manage their inappropriate sexual behaviors as their dementia progresses. However, it’s important to understand that each person may react differently and not all strategies will be applicable to your certain situation. It may take time and patience to figure out what works best for your loved one with dementia. Here are a few tips to get you started from Daily Caring:

Manage the behavior as it happens. When the behavior arises, always make sure to correct it using gentle but firm language. As you see the behavior you may consider responding with something like, “Stop, that’s not right,” or “No, I don’t like that.” Make sure to accompany these verbal cues with nonverbal body language such as shaking your head or obviously frowning. After you correct the behavior, consider physically removing your loved one from the situation and guide them towards a positive activity such as going for a walk, playing their favorite game or turning on the television. 

Explain the behavior to others. If you know you will be around others who are unfamiliar with these behaviors, make sure to explain to them why they are happening. You can start with a simple explanation of dementia and how its effect on the brain causes these behaviors to occur. If your loved one starts to behave inappropriately, ask others to excuse their behavior, redirect the behavior or leave the environment all together. 

Identify triggers. After some time, you may be able to identify what triggers the inappropriate sexual behavior to arise in your loved one. Boredom is a common trigger for many adults with dementia. Keeping your loved one occupied with different types of activities can prevent unwanted behavior. In addition, you may consider keeping their hands occupied with sensory activities, provide alternatives to cuddling such as a soft blanket or stuffed animal, and always document what happened before and after these behaviors come to the surface. 

Make undressing difficult. If your loved one has a tendency to undress and remove articles of clothing, there are clothing options specifically designed for those with dementia that are hard to remove. 

Create a network of support. Caring for someone with dementia can often feel very lonely and isolating. However, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are nearly 42 million caregivers in the United States and many of them are facing the same struggles. Caregiver support groups provide a network of support and an environment conducive to sharing tips and struggles. There are groups that meet in person or online. Here’s a list to get you started. 

Preventing Unwanted Sexual Behaviors in Dementia 

There are a few ways to prevent this behavior from happening in addition to implementing coping mechanisms to handle the situation when it arises. The first and most important thing to consider is that your loved one is not in control of their behaviors. However you decide to handle the unwanted behaviors, do so with compassion and empathy. These behaviors are effects of the disease, not of the person you love. As you notice these behaviors progressing, try implementing a few of these strategies, as provided by WebMD

  • Change is hard for everyone, but particularly for those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Limiting these changes can help prevent the confusion and anxiety that causes these unwanted sexual behaviors. 
  • Provide physical touch in ways that fulfill your loved one’s need for affection. This could look like holding hands or giving a hug. 
  • Spend time with them engaging in their favorite activities or hobbies. A lot of inappropriate sexual behaviors are caused by boredom 
  • Pay attention to their needs. If your loved one is in pain, discomfort, or do not have their daily needs met, sexual behaviors may arise as a response. 
  • Identify and avoid their triggers. These will become more apparent over time and writing them down to help identify patterns can be helpful. 

Caring for those with Dementia at Maplewood Senior Living 

Caring for someone with dementia can be an emotional experience for everyone. At Maplewood Senior Living, our staff has years of accumulated experience navigating the challenges that come with the disease. If you are in need of extra support or are looking for a residential setting that provides a dignified living space and high-quality medical care, please contact us for more information. You can get in touch with us here.

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