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Sex and dementia: dealing with changes in intimate relationships

Talking about sex and intimacy can be really difficult – embarrassing even. But a dementia diagnosis does not have to signal the end of your love life. Find out how you can both continue to enjoy an intimate relationship, if that’s what you want.

Could this be you?

Sex has always been an important part of your relationship and you really miss the close companionship it brought but
– You’re too embarrassed to discuss it with anyone else.
– You feel guilty complaining about it – there are far more important issues to consider now.
– You worry that your partner might reject you.

Sex and dementia is still often considered a taboo subject so it’s no surprise you’re finding it too difficult to talk about – health professionals can also find it a difficult area to discuss. However despite this, many couples living with dementia do manage to overcome the hurdles and enjoy a satisfying sex life.

Reasons why sex is important

1. A good sex life enhances wellbeing regardless of age, health or disability.
2. Touch, affection, companionship and romance are, generally speaking, very pleasurable for most people and can be a key indicator that they’re living well.
3. Everyone, including people with dementia, has the right to express their sexuality without fear of judgement.

But you might face these common issues 

Dementia can cause changes in sexual feelings and behaviour which carers can find worrying and unsettling. For example:

– Your partner doesn’t seem interested in sex anymore or your partner’s sexual desire has increased.
These are both common and won’t necessarily be permanent. If you’re finding sexual advances difficult to cope with, could you consider sleeping in separate beds? Or could you confide in someone? Try calling the Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline for advice on 0800 888 6678.

– Your partner is less inhibited, talks about sex, touches himself or other people inappropriately.
This can be very embarrassing and upsetting but it’s important to remember that dementia can affect behaviour and emotions in all kinds of ways, so don’t take it personally but do get help. Try talking to a doctor or nurse who has experience of dementia, ask for counselling (you should be entitled to counselling on the NHS) or call the helpline above.

Three facts worth knowing

Scientific studies have revealed the following:

1. 60 per cent of people with mild to moderate dementia continue to have sex.
2. 22 per cent of married people who were referred to memory clinics are still sexually active.
3. People with dementia who remain sexually active tend to have a higher score on cognitive testing than those who don’t.

Same but different?

Sex might not mean exactly the same as it used to, and some changes in your sex life might be inevitable as dementia progresses, but there’s no reason why it can’t remain part of your lives. Physical intimacy – whether it’s just a cuddle on the sofa or much more than that – can still bring comfort, support and pleasure for many years to come – for both of you.