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Copyright (c) 2010 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
The Elder Law Journal

NOTE: The Eternal Flame: Capacity to Consent to Sexual Behavior Among Nursing Home Residents with Dementia


The Elder Law Journal

18 Elder L.J. 133


Melissa C. White


I. Introduction
Bob and Dorothy have dementia. 1 Dorothy lost her husband sixteen years ago to a heart attack, and Bob has outlived three previous wives. Before Dorothy moved into the nursing home, many women were vying for Bob's attention. But the manager of the nursing home could tell that once Bob met Dorothy, "it was love." 2 When Bob saw Dorothy, he would light up "like a young stud seeing his lady for the first time." 3 Bob and Dorothy soon were spending all of their free time together. They continued their love affair until Bob's son realized that their relationship had become sexual. Bob's son assumed that his father was being taken advantage of - that due to his dementia, he could not adequately understand the relationship and that Dorothy's advances might "be hard on his father's weak heart." 4 Bob's son insisted that his father be transferred to a different nursing home and refused the nursing home manager's request to let Dorothy say goodbye. For a while, Dorothy stopped eating. She lost over twenty pounds and was treated for depression. In a twisted turn of events, her doctor believes that her Alzheimer's may have saved her life. "The loss might have killed her if its memory hadn't faded so mercifully fast." 5

Far too often, sexuality among the elderly and those with cognitive impairments is ignored or invalidated. It is a widespread belief that older people are not sexually active - that sexuality ...
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