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29 June 2012
Oldsters unfairly denied nookie
by George Atkinson

Because of concerns about safety, elderly care home residents are being denied the right to consensual sex, say specialists in the Journal of Medical Ethics. The researchers behind the new study, from the Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care, say that lawful and consensual sexual expression is frequently frowned upon in old age homes.

Lack of privacy, safety fears, concerns about duty of care, anxieties about potential repercussions from relatives, and ageism all get in the way of what is "a basic human right" and "a normal and healthy part of ageing," they add.

The authors contend that many residential facilities lack formal policies or guidelines or appropriately trained staff to address sexual issues. And, they add, matters are not helped by existing frameworks for assessing mental capacity and consent, which apply primarily to high stake decisions - such as treatment options and power of attorney.

The researchers acknowledge that it is important to protect the vulnerable from harm and to ensure that sexual behaviour is not harmful, abusive or illegal, but that should not prevent people with dementia from making their own decisions about sex, they argue.

"Since it has been well established that sexuality and intimacy continue to be important in later life and are central to an individual's health and wellbeing, the lack of attention paid by aged care facilities to residents' sexual needs is concerning," they write.

Research indicates that aged-care residents do want their sexual expression to be acknowledged and the issue is likely to become more pressing as the population ages and more and more residential care homes open.

"Seeking to 'protect' individuals with dementia by not allowing them to express their sexual needs, thereby stifling their autonomy and personhood, is a far greater failure of duty of care. It is also, we would argue, a violation of the fundamental right of a person with dementia to be recognised as a person before the law," the researchers conclude.

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Source: British Medical Journal

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