Thursday, June 12, 2008

If you hope to get old, or have elderly parents, read this

An Affair To RememberShe was 82. He was 95. They had dementia. They fell in love. And then they started having sex.

Bob's family was horrified at the idea that his relationship with Dorothy might have become sexual. At his age, they wouldn't have thought it possible. But when Bob's son walked in and saw his dad's 82-year-old girlfriend performing oral sex on his 95-year-old father last December, incredulity turned into full-blown panic. "I didn't know where this was going to end," said the manager of the assisted-living facility where Bob and Dorothy lived. "It was pretty volatile."

Because both Bob and Dorothy suffer from dementia, the son assumed that his father didn't fully understand what was going on. And his sputtering cell phone call reporting the scene he'd happened upon would have been funny, the manager said, if the consequences hadn't been so serious. "He was going, 'She had her mouth on my dad's penis! And it's not even clean!' " Bob's son became determined to keep the two apart and asked the facility's staff to ensure that they were never left alone together.

After that, Dorothy stopped eating. She lost 21 pounds, was treated for depression, and was hospitalized for dehydration. When Bob was finally moved out of the facility in January, she sat in the window for weeks waiting for him. She doesn't do that anymore, though: "Her Alzheimer's is protecting her at this point," says her doctor, who thinks the loss might have killed her if its memory hadn't faded so...

read the whole thing by clicking on the link embedded in the title.


This is a brilliant and thought provoking article. For those of us who have been through this, or will go through this, it raises a ton more questions in general than we can ever fully answer in any particular case. What is consent for a person with dementia? How about privacy, how do we understand that? What about the rights of other patients or staff to their own privacy or sense of modesty? What about children's rights, or caregivers rights? What about children's duty and caregiver's duty? Who should have control--the patient, the doctor, the staff or the children when a dispute arises about what is best for the patient? The couple in the story were really a best case scenario for love among the ashes but as some of us know elderly people sometimes lose more than their memories--they can also lose their inhibitions, their sense of morality, and their ability to control behaviors they themselves might once have found grotesque or demeaning or inappropriate. Is love a natural right (I think it is), is it a necessity regardless of our age (I think it is)--sure, but what about sex? what about a separation between private and public? If an elderly person living (perforce) in communal settings can't get privacy for their sex life are they entitled to act out their sexuality in public (as this couple apparently did)? What should/can the communal housing setting--assisted living, hospital, or other kind of managed care do if other patients or families are being disturbed? This is all just the tip of the iceberg for a massive change that is coming as more and more people outlive their ability to live alone, are thrust by their families into assisted living or managed care (thus offering them a last chance at age appropriate sexual or romantic attachments) and are then infantilized by the care routine to a degree never seen before.