Managing inappropriate sexual behavior of Alzheimer’s disease

Managing inappropriate sexual behavior of Alzheimer’s disease

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most challenging duties a person can have.  It takes a great deal of patience, understanding, and a sense humor at times to deal with the many and varied behaviors they can exhibit.  But probably the most frustrating and embarrassing situation a caregiver may have to contend with is inappropriate sexual behavior that can and does occur in people diagnosed with this disease.  Not everyone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will exhibit this behavior but if it does happen, you will want to know how to deal with it in an effective manner. 

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Sexual behavior changes exhibited in Alzheimer’s disease

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, many of those diagnosed can still enjoy and want to participate in remaining sexually active with little change taking place.  As the disease progresses though, there can be more noticeable major sexual behavior changes that may manifest themselves.  One such behavior might be hypersexuality or a sharply increased interest in sex that becomes inappropriate or aggressive.  For instance, it is not unusual for someone with more advanced Alzheimer’s disease to expose their private parts in public or attempt to initiate sexual acts with people other than their partners.  They may use vulgar language or voice their sexual urges to people they would never have done so with before the onset of the disease such as their children, a professional caregiver or being confused as to who a person is or forgetting they already have a partner.

For family members of the person with Alzheimer’s disease, this type of sexual behavior can be mortifying and humiliating.  This odd behavior may be completely out-of-character or different from the person they once knew.  This major change underscores the impact of the disease but it is vital for family members to remember that this behavior is a result of the disease and could possibly even be due to other health issues or medications. 

How to manage inappropriate sexual behavior

The Alzheimer’s Association provides a number of recommendations for family members of someone with this disease.  They understand what you are going through and are there to help give support and advice on how to handle this type of unusual situation if it does occur. Here is what they recommend on handling inappropriate sexual behavior in someone with Alzheimer’s disease: 

·      Discuss the behavior with the patient’s primary healthcare professional to determine the cause and an appropriate resolution.

·      Be open about what is going on with other members of the family, friends and any professional caregivers providing help for the patient.  To avoid misunderstandings and confrontation, it is important to educate anyone close to your loved one that inappropriate or crude sexual remarks or behavior may occur as a result of damage to the brain caused by Alzheimer’s disease. 

·      Avoid becoming angry at, arguing with, or embarrassing your loved one. 

·      Gently but firmly remind the individual that the behavior is inappropriate.

·      Diverting the behavior or their attention is a good tactic to use.  Change the subject, clap your hands, turn on the television or music, anything to disrupt their thought process.

·      Physically remove them from the situation by guiding them away or moving their wheelchair to break the visual cue that is triggering their behavior.

·      If the patient is someone who likes to reach out and grab someone, create space between them and other people. 

·      Some people with dementia crave handling textures such as furs, tweed, or cotton.  Give them something to do with their hands such as holding a stuffed animal or pillow, or giving them a blanket with buttons sewn on it to handle.  Even a piece of Velcro they can smash and rip apart can help.

·      If your loved one says something inappropriate to someone, just say matter-of-factly they have Alzheimer’s disease and to excuse their behavior. 

·      If the inappropriate sexual behavior occurs in public, guide them to a quiet, private area.

All family members and caregivers should remember at times that even though they may feel alone in contending with their loved ones disease, they are not.  There are organizations such as alz.org that has a 24/7 helpline staffed by trained professionals providing assistance and support when you are feeling overwhelmed or don’t know where to turn.  They understand what you are going through and can give guidance in this unexpected journey you or your loved weren’t planning on taking.