There is a lot of sexual activity happening in nursing homes. Much of it is between consenting adults. And if that is the case, some residents’ adult family members end up pretty disappointed when they hear that the nursing home staff is NOT going to stop mom or dad from having sex with the resident down the hall. After all, just because you check into the nursing home doesn’t mean you leave your humanity outside the door, and sexual activity has been shown to improve life for the elderly.
However, there is also a lot of Resident to Resident Sexual Aggression (RRSA) happening. In fact, if an elderly person is sexually abused, it’s more likely to happen inside a long term care facility than outside. And the abuse is far more likely to come from a fellow resident than the staff. There are several reasons for this as an article in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society has pointed out.
First, cognitive impairment, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, may lead a person to misconstrue the identity or motivation of others, so they don’t understand that they are engaging in unacceptable behavior. And dementia can cause an increase in libido. The object of the inappropriate conduct may be cognitively impaired and unable to fend for herself. Or a resident may not know where he is, and may engage in publicly inappropriate behavior that in private would be no one’s business but his own. Finally, the offending resident could be a registered sex offender. Those people age and end up in nursing homes too. Research shows that the vast majority of perpetrators of unwanted sexual activity are male, and the victims female.
What kind of sexual aggression is occurring? Anything from kissing and touching, taking photographs to flat out rape. The definition of sexual assault is non-consensual physical contact of a sexual nature, so the key is for nursing home staff to determine whether both parties to the activity consent. More information can be found on the website of the National Center on Elder Abuse.
If a nursing home finds that a resident has been subjected to unwelcome sexual aggression, it has a legal duty to protect that resident. It turns out that only about one-quarter of facilities have policies on intimacy and sexual behavior, according to the AARP. Without policies, the response to a resident’s distress is going to vary on a case-by case basis, depending on who is investigating.