Tuesday Tips for Caregivers ~ Alzheimer’s: Changes in Intimacy

Alzheimer’s: Changes in Intimacy

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative neurological disease that impacts memory, speech, behavior, and many other aspects of physical health. Additionally, because of Alzheimer’s negative impacts on the brain, people living with it may experience very noticeable changes in interpersonal interaction as a result of behavior and memory changes.

For example, if you are a caregiver and/or a spouse of someone living with Alzheimer’s, you’ll notice that your loved one may be more aggressive, dependent, detached, anxious, or any combination of these traits. It is hard to tell exactly how the disease will impact any one individual. Nevertheless, one thing is certain, people who live with Alzheimer’s will inevitably experience changes in their relationship with their spouses if they happen to be married.

One way these changes can manifest in the early stages of Alzheimer’s is through changes in intimacy and sexuality. This situation can be very difficult for spouses and their loved ones, but for different reasons. For example, if you are a spouse, you may not know how to handle these changes in your loved one because they may behave aggressively at you and become detached.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, your loved one may experience what medical professionals call “hypersexuality,” which means an increased drive in sexuality. They may tend to masturbate more often, try to seduce others, or want to engage in sexual activity with you.[1] This can be very difficult to handle. Some spouses are unsure how to manage their loved one’s behavior, while also dealing with the ethical questions of whether it is okay to continue to engage with sexual activity with their loved one if they have Alzheimer’s.

Here are some thoughts to consider for different scenarios.

Decreased Sexual Interests

Sometimes, your loved one will experience decreased interests in intimacy. Sometimes, both partners in a relationship can manage this situation very well by finding other ways to show love, like through touching, hugging, and spending time with another. Other times, you may wish you could be more intimate with your loved one even though they are not showing you the same interest in return. It is important to remember that you should respect how your loved one feels and understand that changes in their sex drive may result from the disease and not because of a decreased interest in you as a person.

Increased Sexual Interests (Hypersexuality)

There are cases where people living with Alzheimer’s experience an increase in their sex drive. Sometimes, this can be difficult for their spouse to keep up with their demands. Other times, spouses feel conflicted because they are unsure whether it is appropriate to engage in sexual activity with their loved one if they are living with Alzheimer’s.

This is a tricky situation and must be thought about very carefully, often with the help of your loved one’s doctor. If you are not sure if it is appropriate to engage in sexual activity with your loved one, then you can show them other forms of attention and affection. The important thing to establish with your loved one is consent; and if the lines are ever blurred, then it is safer to avoid sexual activity and show them affection in other ways, like through reassurance or spending time with them.[2]

An important thing to consider is the potential for conflict if you turn down your partner’s sexual advances.[3] Some people living with Alzheimer’s may react negatively if their spouses decline their sexual demands. The best away to avoid aggression or agitation in your loved one is to decline in a very polite and sensitive way. Additionally, you should acknowledge their needs in a respectful manner and be mindful of their feelings.[4]

This is a very sensitive situation, and modes of responding will vary from couple to couple. The best advice you can get is with your loved one’s doctor. If you are at a loss on how to respond to these situations it is very important to consult with a professional source.

If you have any questions, feel free to call ElderCare at Home at 888-285-0093 or visit our website.

[1] Source: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/changes-intimacy-and-sexuality-alzheimers-disease
[2] Source: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/changes-intimacy-and-sexuality-alzheimers-disease
[3] Source: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/sex-intimacy-adapting-changes-person-dementia#content-start
[4] Source: Ibid.

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