When an 85-year-old resident spent the night with her boyfriend, her aides made her a Do Not Disturb sign.
The Hebrew Home at Riverdale has been recognized as one of the best nursing homes in the country. The facility offers an on-site audiology clinic, 24-hour nursing care, occupational therapy, and more. Among the services offered in that extended list is a dating service called G-Date, or Grandparent Date. Because moving into a nursing home doesn’t mean you have to move away from other important areas of life.
Etched into the policies and procedures drafted by the Hebrew Home staff is a section pertaining to sexual rights of the older adults living in its facilities. “The Hebrew Home at Riverdale recognizes and respects the importance of emotional and physical intimacy in the lives of older adults. Such close human interactions are viewed as a normal and natural aspect of life,” it reads. According to a survey conducted by the AMDA, the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, only about a quarter of assisted-living facilities have policies on intimacy and sexual behavior in place.
When 85-year-old Audrey Davison, one of Hebrew Home’s 870 residents, decided to spend the night with her boyfriend, her aides didn’t stand in the way. One even made a Do Not Disturb sign for her to hang outside.
“I enjoyed it and he was a very good lover,” she told the New York Times. “That was part of how close we were: physically touching and kissing.”
According to the Times, Americans are having an easier time enjoying intimate relationships into old age, thanks in part to drugs like Viagra but also to society’s more tolerant stance on nontraditional expressions of love and sex.
“This is a time of life where many people return to a certain romance of what they were like in their 20s. You can no longer jump out of planes, but you can still generate excitement in your life,” geriatric psychiatrist Ken Robbins, a clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison told AARP. As Daniel Reingold, the president and chief, told the Times, “We don’t lose the pleasure that comes with touch…If intimacy leads to a sexual relationship, then let’s deal with it as grown-ups.”
Kelly Dixon, a 74-year-old resident at Hebrew Home, told the Times, “It’s not about bang-bang and I’ll see you later…It’s about enjoying the company of who you’re having sex with.”
There is one area that makes regulating sex in nursing homes particularly challenging: An estimated 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. When memory goes, so do the clear lines of consent. But according to Hebrew Home’s guidelines, cognitive impairment isn’t necessarily a reason to deny sex.
According to AARP, nursing homes usually apply one of two principles when signing off on sexual contact for someone with dementia. Evelyn Tenebaum, a professor at Albany Law School and Albany Medical College, explained that “substituted judgment” is the most widely used standard for these kinds of cases. Under this method, caretakers are encouraged to look at the person’s previously held values and decision-making in determining what they would choose now, such as an extramartial affair.
The other principle is known as “best interests,” and tends to be favored by ethicists and dementia experts. Under this method, caretakers decide what’s good for the person as she is now, ignoring past values and taking into account the changes in personality that can accompany dementia.
Other issues circle back to the families involved. As AARP’s Reingold explained to the Times, some families have taken issue with their relatives embarking on new sexual relationships, especially if they’re still married to someone else who is not at the nursing home.
Bringing sex into the mix also puts an additional pressure on staff, who can be tasked with mediating drama, jealousy, and the occasional incidence of PDA. Though not all mind the additional duties. Eileen Dunnion, a registered nurse who has three couples on her floor, once served as a lookout for a man with two girlfriends. Despite the risks, he was never caught. “I did my job well,” she told the Times. “Nurses wear many hats.”
In the past year, a dozen people have signed up for G-Date. Charlotte Dell, the director of social services insists, “We’re going to get a wedding out of this yet.”
Carrie Weisman is an AlterNet staff writer who focuses on sex, relationships and culture. Got tips, ideas or a first-person story? Email her.
This originally appeared on Alternet. Republished here with permission.