Published on:

Sexual Assault or Consensual Sex? With Alzheimer’s Patients, Lines May be Blurred

A nursing home in California voluntarily closed, displacing some 125 residents, amid allegations of sexual assault involving two patients. The facility will close permanently next month, and residents will be sent to one of three other facilities operated by the same owner. nursing home abuse

But the question of what happened – and whether it was in fact abuse – still lingers, and it’s one that has arisen numerous times in nursing homes in Florida too, as well as across the country.

The Sacramento Bee reported one of the patients involved was a 79-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s. The other was a 70-year-old man who was cognitively intact. The man had been observed months earlier touching the woman’s breast. When the incident occurred, he later told investigators she initiated the contact, taking off her clothes and calling him “darling.” The woman told investigators she had made love to her husband, who is deceased. 

The report raises questions about whether the state overreacted to an encounter that was part of a “quasi-consensual” relationship or if it was in fact sexual assault.

The closure of the facility was prompted by a state health department investigation that sought to cut off federal funding by stripping the facility of its Medicaid certification, which would have forced it out of business. The company instead chose to act first, noting in its letter to the state that it reserves the right to reapply for a new provider agreement if the owners opt to reopen its doors.

Advocates for Alzheimer’s patients say the issue of consent in romantic relationships is “very gray,” because it’s not clear at which point in cognitive impairment one totally loses the ability to consent. On one hand, there is a respect for the patient to continue as normally as possible for as long as possible, respecting privacy and allowing them the freedom to engage in sexual activity if it is their choice. It is not a crime to engage in sexual activity at a nursing home. However, ethically and legally speaking, it may not be clear whether one or both parties totally understand what is occurring and with whom.

Some advocates say anyone with moderate to severe dementia cannot consent to sexual relations with anyone for any reason – even spouses. Our nursing home abuse lawyers know that some individuals with dementia may display sexually inappropriate behaviors, and measures must be taken to protect them and protect those with whom they share a residence.

There is no law in California or in Florida that clearly defines how or when a person with dementia is able to consent to sexual activity.

But sexual assault is known to be a serious issue in nursing homes throughout the country. A CNN in-depth investigation earlier this summer revealed that more than 1,000 nursing homes nationally were cited for failing to prevent or mishandling allegations of sexual assault. Those are just the incidents about which we know.

Residents in these centers are reliant – sometimes completely so – on the proper training, staffing and response of these facilities for protection. Each facility must have clear, thorough plans to prevent sexual abuse – and that includes between residents.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

A lonely man and an Alzheimer’s patient. Is it sexual assault or consensual sex? Sept. 18, 2017, By Marjie Lundstrom, The Sacramento Bee

More Blog Entries:

Nursing Home Death of Alzheimer’s Patient Spurs Negligence Lawsuit, July 30, 2017, Fort Lauderdale Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

Contact Information