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Sex and the Elderly (Part 1)

Sex and the elderlySex harassment is a big issue these days. But less public is a component of that issue: when does yes mean yes, specifically when dealing with sexual consent by those with dementia. This is the first in a two-part series.

When can a person with dementia consent to intimacy and when should that right of consent be taken from them is highlighted by a landmark case involving Henry Rayhons.  This case raises some important questions regarding personal relationships of those who develop memory debilitating diseases and their loved ones. 

In May 2014, the State of Iowa charged Henry Rayhons with sexual assault of his wife, a felony.  He faced a possible ten (10) year sentence if found guilty. 

Henry Rayhons and Donna Rayhons were married in 2007.  It was the second marriage for both of them and they both had adult children.  According to friends and family, they were very much in love.  Donna was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was eventually placed in a nursing home by her adult daughters. 

According to various news reports that covered the trial, Donna was evaluated by a facility doctor for a number of reasons, including capacity.  Upon Donna’s daughters’ request, the doctor advised Henry that Donna did not have capacity to consent to sex.  Eight days after being advised of this doctor’s opinion, Henry visited Donna in the facility, which she shared with an 86 year old female roommate.  While there it was alleged that he engaged in sexual acts with his wife based on a report made by Donna’s roommate and physical evidence gathered at the scene.  

In order to prove its case, the prosecution had to prove two facts beyond a reasonable doubt:  (1) that Henry and Donna Rayhons, engaged in sexual relations on the night in question; and (2) that Donna Rayhons, was unable to consent to those activities.  A jury determined that the prosecution did not prove these two facts and found Henry “not guilty.”  The exact reasons for the jury’s decision are unknown, only that they rendered a verdict of not guilty.

Regardless, the case brought up many concerns and questions for all of us.  One of the main concerns this case brings up is the necessity of physical touch and intimacy for all people, especially as we age and even more so for those with dementia.  Human contact can come in many forms and it is vital for all of us.  Sexual intimacy is one form of human contact that many adults take for granted.  However, when one goes to live in an assisted living or nursing home facility, that right may be taken away or altered.

Unfortunately, there may come a point when a person with advanced Alzheimer’s may be unable to recognize a spouse or loved one.  This is excruciating for the unrecognized loved one and we imagine it is confusing, frustrating and isolating for the patient.  What if that same patient begins to find another patient at the facility attractive, begins to flirt or even “fall in love”?  Some of you may recall the national news reports several years ago when a similar situation occurred with Justice O’Connor’s husband who suffered from advanced dementia. 

It should come as no surprise to anyone that sexual activity among older adults is an issue nursing homes are must be forced to deal with.  Reasonable policies governing the behaviors of residents must be instituted. Tomorrow blog discusses some possible solutions to what many failed to anticipate would be one of the issues they might face.

 

 

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