The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Love & Sex, Pt 5: Spouses and Adult Children

This is the last in a series of blogs about dementia, love and sex. Past blogs have addressed the changes dementia and dementia caring makes in relationships, the changes it causes to a loved one's brain and feelings.

When you are aware of the changes that dementia causes, it is easier to accept these behaviors as a part of the disease and then move on to find ways to prevent or avoid unwanted behavior. That's what last week's blog was about. However, it is likely that you may still have to deal some. This week we discuss how sposues and adult children can use Responsive Dementia Care's last three As to deal with these behaviors when they occur.

Attitude. Developing the right attitude goes a long way towards more helpful actions.
  • Empathy will allow you to see the issue from their viewpoint. This is the only one that counts, since only you can change. (See previous blogs about this.)
  • Accepting your loved one's views and needs will prevent negative feelings from interfering. As long as strong negative emotions are present, your loved one can't "hear" you emotionally and will not respond positively.
Action. You are the only one who can chose how to act. You loved one can't. However they can mirror your actions, and follow your lead--if they are calm enough to "hear" you. Your goal is to behave in a way that calms your loved one and allows you to access their attention enough to refocus it onto something more acceptable.
  • Last week's blog recommended that you proved plenty of emotional support throughout the day. This continues to be one of the most important things you can do.
  • Gently reject an inappropriate approach by putting it off. A spouse might smile and even touch gently, but then say firmly, "Not now, dear" and move away. Alice said that when her husband was amorous during the day, she'd smile and tell him, "as soon as I finish this." Then she made sure her task lasted long enough for him to forget his request.
  • Other spouses recommend cuddling, which even they can enjoy.
For the adult child, the issue is more difficult and embarrassing. Here are some suggestions. Of course, these can also work with spouses:
  • Simply ignore the sexual aspect of an advance and respond in a friendly way with something distracting. (Don't worry about this bringing on more episodes. Unlike a child, a person living with dementia doesn't learn.) Most of these advances involve a need for attention. When you give this but don't reward the sexual message, the inappropriate behavior often decreases.
  • If the behavior continues, shake your head, frown and move away if you can. Your nonverbal cues will be more helpful than your words. Remember the directions from last week to avoid anger, defending or explaining, all of which will make the situation worse.
  • Move your loved one to a different location. This takes them away from whatever was triggering the behavior.
Averting: Refocusing your loved one's attention by moving the action away from the unwelcome behavior and towards something more acceptable. Such distractions work because dementia makes it difficult to think about more than one thing at a time but ONLY if you have validated your loved one's feelings enough to get their attention. If they are still strongly focused on what they want, your efforts will fail.
  • Suggest going for a walk. Exercise can reduce sexual urges.
  • Offer a massage of hand, feet or even back. Therapies that involve physical contact can divert the person's attention away from more sexual thoughts.
  • Other distractions are sweets (always helpful!) and other things the person enjoys such as card game, photo sorting and viewing or even something you "need help with" like setting the table.
Finally, remember nothing works for everyone. You will likely have to try a variety of things to find out what works best with your loved one. Feel free to share what you've learned in the comments below.

Next week is about cognitive fluctuations, a subject discussed at the 2019 National DLB Conference by LBD expert, Tanis Ferman.

For more information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia
Responsive Dementia Care: Fewer Behaviors Fewer Drugs
Lewy Body Dementia: A Manual for Staff

Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors, lawyers or social workers. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a professional's advice.

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