Could a passionate night in bed also boost your brain health later in life? There is a growing body of evidence that sexual satisfaction among older adults may delay or even prevent cognitive decline. So, is a great sex life the medicine for Alzheimer’s?
Allison Smith, MS, and a team in the Department of Family Sciences at the University of Kentucky sought to explore changes over time in long-term cognitive status in relation to intimacy and sexuality in older adults. They collected baseline intimacy and sexuality survey data from 155 participants. The study explored:
- romance with a partner
- sexual satisfaction
- beliefs about sexuality
- social support
- emotional intimacy
The data was analyzed in relation to changes in cognitive status over 10 years. Over the 10-year study period, 33.5 percent of the individuals developed cognitive impairment. Participants with greater sexual satisfaction at baseline were less likely to convert from cognitively intact to mild cognitive impairment or dementia in the future. Other studies have similar findings.
Changes in intimacy and sexuality with dementia
Everyone experiences changes in intimacy and sexuality throughout life. Alzheimer’s disease causes changes in both the person with the condition and the caregiver. An individual with dementia usually experiences the changes in his or her memory and behaviors as stressful. Fear, worry, depression, anger, and low self-esteem (how much the person likes himself or herself) are common. The person may become clingy, or may not recall a life together or emotional intimacy with the caregiver.
The caregiver may pull away from the person with dementia, both emotionally and physically. The demands of caregiving are great, and the caregiver may feel mild to extreme frustration by the individual’s constant forgetfulness, endless questions, and other repetitive and annoying behaviors. Learning how to cope with the challenges of dementia takes time and constant effort.
Coping with changes in intimacy
Most people with dementia need reassurance that they are safe and loved. They also need to spend time with people other than the caregiver. It’s important to reassure the person that he or she is loved and safe and that there are others who care as well. The caregiver will benefit from a peer support group.
Coping with changes in sexuality
The healthy spouse/partner or the person with dementia may lose interest in sex. Caregivers describe feeling like it isn’t okay to have sex with a person with dementia, or that the affected individual seems like a stranger. The person with dementia may forget their spouse/partner, or how to have sex. Side-effects from medications can affect interest in sex. Depression can also affect sexual desire.
The couple can find new things to do together. They can show affection by holding hands, or try nonsexual touching, such as massage, or hugging. Some caregivers masturbate to help meet their sexual needs.
Hypersexuality is a possibility
Sometimes, people with Alzheimer’s disease are overly interested in sex. This is called hypersexuality. The person may masturbate a lot and try to seduce others, even people they don’t know. These behaviors are often just symptoms of the disease and don’t always arise from sexual desire. Some people with hypersexuality need medicine to control their behaviors. Ask the doctor how to manage hypersexuality.
Caring for yourself is important
The most important thing you can take from this article is that it’s the caregiver’s highest priority to take care of themself. Support groups with peers are valuable in many ways, for practical information as well as emotional support. The relationships formed in a support group will get a caregiver through the inevitable times when they feel they can’t take one more minute of their overwhelming burden or they’ll lose their minds. It is not disloyal to the person with dementia to get support outside the partnership.
NIA Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
The NIA ADEAR Center offers information and free print publications about Alzheimer’s and related dementias for families, caregivers, and health professionals. ADEAR Center staff answer telephone, email, and written requests and make referrals to local and national resources.
Explore the Alzheimers.gov website for information and resources on Alzheimer’s and related dementias from across the federal government.
Family Caregiver Alliance
Lea la versión en español en EstudioRevela.com: La satisfacción sexual podría ser clave para retrasar el inicio de la demencia.