Why aged care needs to change its position on residents' sex lives

Study seeks to remove stigma surrounding sex lives of aged care residents

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Why aged care needs to change its position on residents' sex lives.

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SEX is often considered a taboo subject in the aged care sector, but Cindy Jones isn't afraid of helping give saucy seniors a leg up.

The behavioural sciences expert and sexual liberation missionary believes it is time the sector changed its position when it comes to clients' love life.

The Associate Professor from Bond University said the aged care sector had traditionally taken a preventative approach when it came to residents having sexual relationships, viewing it as a potential risk that should be mitigated.

She has received funding from Dementia Australia to develop tools to help aged care workers adopt a more "person centred" approach to the issues of sexuality and intimacy.

Dr Jones became aware of the issue about 10 years ago when she had just completed her PhD and was working in a research role between the university and an aged care facility.

ALL SMILES: Dr Cindy Jones thinks sexual relationships could make many aged care residents healthier and happier.

ALL SMILES: Dr Cindy Jones thinks sexual relationships could make many aged care residents healthier and happier.

"Staff were raising issues about inappropriate, challenging behaviour. We tend to label behaviours as problematic or challenging," she said.

"That is a matter we need to address to improve quality of life and wellbeing."

When the issue was first raised with her, she was a little "taken aback", not realising how important sex and sexuality were to older people.

But through research and conversations, she realised it was an issue that needed to be addressed.

Sexuality is part of who we are; it's not just a switch that gets turned off when we turn 65.

Dr Jones said a shift was already under way, with a range of support material available on Dementia Australia's website and brochures and pamphlets encouraging workers to take a more proactive approach to the issue.

While attempts were being made to make staff aware that sexual health and wellbeing were important elements of care, she said there was a lot to be done to turn policy into practice.

"We are gradually doing it, but what is missing at the moment is having a better conversation about people with cognitive impairments so we can learn to better understand their needs."

Dr Jones said aged care providers often did not take into account the needs of dementia patients due to stigma, but pointed to the work of psychologist Bernie McCarthy.

McCarthy's Positive and Negative Signs Scale uses body language and physical observation of behaviour and demeanour to determine the wellbeing of people who have dementia.

Dr Jones would like to see it extensively used to assess the consent of people who may be unable to communicate it verbally.

She said while certain behaviours, such as inappropriate acts in public areas or competition and jealousy among partners, could be problematic, it was important to address the problems themselves rather than take a prohibitive approach to sex.

"As staff, we face competition and jealousy every day, but we deal with it because it's part of our work," she said.

SWINGERS: Dr Cindy Jones is working to reverse stigma surrounding sexual relationships of residents in aged care.

SWINGERS: Dr Cindy Jones is working to reverse stigma surrounding sexual relationships of residents in aged care.

"We shouldn't be stopping these relationships from happening just because they make our work life difficult."

Dr Jones is using her funding to create a questionnaire in consultation with stakeholders including clients and family members.

It would allow clients to sit down with staff when moving into a new facility to help develop a tailored plan to address their intimacy and sexuality needs.

Once consultation regarding the questionnaire is complete, it will be trialled in an aged care setting.

For more information on current resources for aged care workers, click here.

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