K-State helps nursing home staff become comfortable with residents' sexual expression

November 18, 2008

"Do not disturb" signs aren't just for newlyweds anymore. They are also a way to give nursing home residents some privacy for sexual expression, according to Kansas State University aging experts.

"By law you can't always lock a room, but you can offer residents some privacy," said Gayle Doll, who directs K-State's Center on Aging.

She said semi-private rooms pose a problem for nursing home residents who want to engage in sexual activity, either alone or with a partner. That's why two of the center's researchers are looking at ways to make nursing home staff more comfortable accommodating the sexual needs of residents.

Doll said that because nursing home staff don't receive any education in this area, they tend to either ignore or condemn these needs.

"We just want people to start talking about these issues," she said. "Once you start talking about it with nursing home staff, everyone has a story."

Majka Jankowiak and Laci Cornelison, research assistants at the Center on Aging, studied nursing home staff attitudes about sexuality in three Kansas nursing homes. The research was presented in October at the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging conference.

The researchers surveyed the staff before and after a workshop they presented. The surveys, as well as anecdotal feedback from the participants, showed a marked change in attitudes.

"They really felt this was a topic that they needed to be educated on," Jankowiak said. "Part of it is that American society is not supportive of older people and sex. It's been a taboo, and it's an even bigger taboo in nursing homes. After the presentation, the participants felt more confident talking about it and dealing with sexual expression of residents."

These shifting attitudes translated into a positive experience for one particular couple, Cornelison said. A married couple moved into a nursing home room with two hospital beds. One spouse had to have a leg elevated, but it was on the same side as the partner's bed, which made it hard for them to hold hands. Some staff members didn't see the importance of allowing the couple intimacy and said the problem couldn't be fixed.

"But someone who had been to our presentation encouraged everyone to move the furniture," Cornelison said.

The researchers said that sexuality and nursing home residents brings up issues beyond just acknowledging and accommodating sexual expression. HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases can be concerns for a generation that may have not have the same awareness that younger people do.

Also, adult children may have concerns about their parent's safety or how a new relationship will affect the family or their inheritance. The researchers are developing materials to help family members deal with these questions.

"What they fear is exploitation or that the role the parent played will go away," Doll said.

In addition, Alzheimer's and dementia raise questions about the ability to consent, and these conditions also may spur sexual behavior that's inappropriate.

"Even though we advocate for residents' rights, there are things that are inappropriate," Doll said. "But staff must be able handle this without residents feeling embarrassed. Inappropriate behavior can just come from people needing relationships, not necessarily sexual ones."

Doll said the researchers hope to see federal guidelines developed to help all nursing homes deal with sexuality in a positive way, especially as baby boomers age and bring their attitudes about sex with them to the nursing home.

"Nursing homes are the second most regulated industry next to nuclear power, and yet these regulations don't address sexuality," Doll said.

Source: Kansas State University

Explore further: Abortion, contraception, pregnancy—how women's bodies became a battlezone

Related Stories

Abortion, contraception, pregnancy—how women's bodies became a battlezone

September 12, 2017
Outside, the mid-morning heat is stifling. It's not humid like the bustling metropolises of Mumbai or Kolkata; here in New Delhi it's a dry heat, the type of heat that exhausts you, made worse by a thick layer of dust which ...

The sex workers who are stopping HIV

August 15, 2017
It's late when we reach Inhamízua on the outskirts of the city.

Report reveals prevalence of sexual assault in nursing homes

April 12, 2017
A new paper in The Gerontologist examined sexual assault in nursing homes. The report finds that the most vulnerable residents are likely to become victims; legal examinations were infrequent due to administration complexities ...

A new way to think about dementia and sex

July 5, 2017
Persons living with dementia don't have sex. Or they have weird sex. Or they have dangerous sex, in need of containment.

Study highlights prevalence of mistreatment between nursing home residents

November 6, 2014
Inappropriate, disruptive, or hostile behavior between nursing home residents is a sizable and growing problem, according to new research from Weill Cornell Medical College and Cornell University.

Senior-to-senior aggression common in US nursing homes

November 21, 2014
(HealthDay)—Elderly adults who live in nursing homes may commonly deal with aggressive or inappropriate behavior from fellow residents, a new study suggests.

Recommended for you

Experts devise plan to slash unnecessary medical testing

October 17, 2017
Researchers at top hospitals in the U.S. and Canada have developed an ambitious plan to eliminate unnecessary medical testing, with the goal of reducing medical bills while improving patient outcomes, safety and satisfaction.

New study: Nearly half of US medical care comes from emergency rooms

October 17, 2017
Nearly half of all US medical care is delivered by emergency departments, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). And in recent years, the percentage of care delivered ...

No evidence that widely marketed technique to treat leaky bladder/prolapse works

October 16, 2017
There is no scientific evidence that a workout widely marketed to manage the symptoms of a leaky bladder and/or womb prolapse actually works, conclude experts in an editorial published online in the British Journal of Sports ...

Ten pence restaurant chain levy on sugary drinks linked to fall in sales

October 16, 2017
The introduction of a 10 pence levy on sugar sweetened drinks across the 'Jamie's Italian' chain of restaurants in the UK was associated with a relatively large fall in sales of these beverages of between 9 and 11 per cent, ...

New exercises help athletes manage dangerous breathing disorder

October 16, 2017
A novel set of breathing techniques developed at National Jewish Health help athletes overcome vocal cord dysfunction and improve performance during high-intensity exercise. Vocal cord dysfunction, now also referred to as ...

Learning and staying in shape key to longer lifespan, study finds

October 13, 2017
People who are overweight cut their life expectancy by two months for every extra kilogramme of weight they carry, research suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.