It is difficult for caregivers to see their loved ones’ behavior and attitude change as a result of Alzheimer’s disease. As Alzheimer’s progresses, people with Alzheimer’s increasingly communicate through behavior instead of speech and their inhibitions can become reduced. In some cases, it can even bring about inappropriate sexual behaviors such as:
- Making sexual advances to others
- Undressing or touching themselves in public
- Using vulgar or obscene language
- Jealous accusations that a spouse is having an affair
This can be embarrassing for those close to the person with Alzheimer’s, but it can also be very confusing, distressing or frustrating for the person with Alzheimer’s, as he or she most likely cannot understand why the behavior is considered inappropriate, nor remember not to do it again.
It is vital to remember that this behavior is a result of the disease — or possibly other health issues or medications — not a reflection of the person’s character, and often what seems like sexual behavior is really an expression of a non-sexual need, such as needing to use the toilet or a need for closeness.
If a reason for inappropriate behavior is not evident, here are appropriate responses to try:
- Redirect the person to a meaningful or favorite activity such as listening to the radio or looking at family pictures.
- Be consistent in promptly directing the person to a private area if he or she begins to undress in public.
- Respond to feelings of rejection, loneliness or a need for closeness with gentle talk, a caring pat or a hug. Establish a balance; over-responding may encourage unwanted sexual behavior.
- Try increasing the amount of exercise or activity the person gets.
Consider practical solutions; for inappropriate disrobing, buy special clothes designed with fasteners in the back for this specific reason, or try putting trousers or dresses on backwards.
When responding to an inappropriate behavior:
- Respond calmly and matter-of-factly. Avoid becoming angry at, arguing with or embarrassing the person; try to be gentle and patient.
- Don’t overreact, shame or ridicule the person.
- Start to look for a solution, whether it is a different setting that does not allow for the behavior to be a cause of concern, some adaptive clothing or devices that prevent or reduce the possibility for another occurrence.
Share your concerns with a care professional who can provide additional suggestions. Live Free Home Health Care’s Certified Dementia Practitioner, Jennifer Harvey, trains family caregivers in successful Alzheimer’s problem behavior strategies. We also employ professional caregivers who are skilled in the art of patient Alzheimer’s care and can give family members respite to relieve stress and care for themselves. Contact us today for information on how we can help.
Sources: Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Disease and Sexuality: Maintaining Intimacy, Managing Difficult Behavior, by James Clyde Sellman, Ph.D.