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Nursing Home Policies on Sexual Relationships

Most people don’t like to think about their parents or grandparents engaged in sexual contact. It may be an especially uneasy topic when that loved one is residing in a nursing home. But as a recent New York Times article reported, some nursing homes are setting policies that establish guidelines for residents and staffers on this very subject. The purpose is to ensure those who are aging in an institution don’t lose the opportunity for a comforting touch, but also aren’t victimized by unwanted advances.

The difference between a healthy relationship and a potentially abusive one comes down to one thing: Consent.

Although it seems a fairly straightforward issue, it’s the one area where clarification is most needed. For example, can an Alzheimer’s patient give consent? Some nursing homes posit that they can, but only in certain circumstances.

You may recall the case in Iowa of former Senator Henry Rayhons. He was arrested and charged with sexual abuse in 2014 after staffers accused him of having sex with his wife, a resident in a nursing home, even as she suffered from severe Alzheimer’s disease. A jury last year ultimately found him not guilty.

The case was pivotal in calling to question the fact that many nursing homes had no clear guidelines on when sex between residents – or even sex between residents and spouses – was acceptable. In fact, many nursing homes still don’t have clear guidelines for such behavior.

Our West Palm nursing home abuse lawyers know that while many facilities have had unspoken rules about sexual relationships of residents, establishing clear boundaries can make it easier to identify when intervention may be needed – and when it’s not.

The primary goal of any nursing home should be the safety and well-being of its residents. That involves having an open, honest discussion about the sexual relationships that are already happening in nursing homes. Hebrew Homes, a large nursing home in New York that has established a sexual relations policy, did so after conducting a survey of hundreds of nursing homes in the region. Most denied residents were having sex at all, which likely turns a blind eye to the issue.

As advocates for nursing home abuse victims, our attorneys know it’s important to stipulate to families that just because a sexual encounter isn’t welcomed or encouraged by family members doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not welcome by the resident. This arises particularly when the resident is already married. That said, family members must be vigilant and watchful when it comes to such matters.

Identifying relationships that might be exploitative or abusive is not always easy. Sexual abuse in general is vastly under-reported. For dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, this is even more so. Victims not only live with their aggressors, which adds to the fear, but many may be physically unable to speak up. This is why family and loved ones must be watchful and vigilant. Talk to staffers. Watch the interaction with other residents.

It’s important that every resident is able to practice their sexuality in a safe, tolerant environment. It’s also important that they be protected from unwanted advances.

If you suspect your loved one has been the victim of sexual abuse in a nursing home, a nursing home abuse lawyer can help you explore your legal options.

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:

Too Old for Sex? Not at This Nursing Home, July 12, 2016, By Winnie Hu, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

Nursing Home Resident Arrested for Sexual Battery of 94-Year-Old, July 16, 2016, West Palm Beach Nursing Home Lawyer Blog

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