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The Importance of Educating Personnel

It seems easier for long-term care facility management and staff to believe that older adults are disinterested in sexuality than to address a very complex situation. Sexual expression does occur in care facilities.

Sexuality policies and training are not the norm. There is no universally accepted criteria regarding the ability to consent to sexual behavior. Criteria varies in different states, in common law and within nursing home regulations. Dealing with sexuality is not as simple as developing a set of policies protecting the facility while ensuring residents can fulfill their sexual desires. Cultural misconceptions held by management and staff can affect how older adult sexuality is accepted.  Management and staff may be horrified and immediately separate elders. Staff may even scold residents for their actions. There may be fear that families won’t approve. Management and staff may construe sexual acts as abnormal, problems that need fixing. Facility leadership must take responsibility to develop clear policies and regulations that include sexuality in long-term care settings.  Research indicates that changing stereotypic outdated attitudes begins with education. Facilities that positively and consistently provide training can work through cultural beliefs and help sensitize management and staff members. Long-term care centers that created policies which included resident’s rights to sexual expression have found their openness in discussing these issues makes residents feel more valued and may reduce problems with family members.

Suggested Actions to Address Resident’s Sexuality.
 1.    Develop a sexual policy which makes it clear that the resident’s wishes will not only be honored for sexuality, but also for other needs. It is imperative to perceive older adult residents needs holistically.
 2.    Educate staff that assuming older adults don’t want to be sexually active is a stereotypic antiquated belief.
 3.    Provide privacy where residents can go within the care facility to share intimate time. If no space exists, work as a team to develop solutions.
 4.    Educate families. It may be difficult for them to accept that their loved ones want to express themselves in loving and intimate ways.
 5.    Approach each case individually. Don’t expect that the same approach to resident’s sexuality works for everyone. Each older adult is unique and worthy of actions specific to their needs.

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