Bringing a sex worker into a nursing home was an effective way to handle a resident with dementia who was engaging in "inappropriate" sexual behaviour, an expert said yesterday.
Former Alzheimer's Australia NSW educator Elaine White said people living with dementia often lost their inhibitions and were not fully responsible for their behaviour.
"Some people living with dementia may exhibit sexual behaviour that is challenging for carers, including disrobing in public, inappropriate touching, using suggestive gestures or language or going into another resident's bedroom in an aged-care facility and getting into their bed uninvited," Ms White said.
"Care staff need to look at the person's sexual history to address their unmet sexual needs and reconnect the person to their past experiences and pleasures."
Ms White, who is 80 herself, said she was "saddened that older people in society are considered to be asexual by the younger community".
"I got drawn into it way back in the '80s when I was responsible for a rehab unit. I brought in a particular gentleman on a Friday then came back Monday to be greeted by the weekend staff angry about this 'dirty old man' who I had to do something about."
That was the start of Ms White's "problem-solving pathway".
She said the "need to express one's sexuality continues to flourish whatever a person's age or disability".
"It can be just as fulfilling and important to an older person as it is to younger people."
She will present strategies at a Wollongong lecture next week to help people maintain their "sensuality, appropriate levels of intimacy and identity".
One strategy, she said, was employing a sex worker where appropriate.
Nursing homes in the Newcastle area - where Ms White is based - allowed sex workers in to see residents in certain circumstances, she said.
"It comes from the management. If they are open to it, it can work very well.
"First you have to find out the sexual history of the person, whether they have used sex workers in the past, whether they have used sexual aids, it's all part of it.
"It all comes back to the uniqueness of that individual, what do they need? What is their past? I think that is so important.
"They've got dementia, they can't help their behaviour so we have to look at how we can help bring back what they are interested in and what is dignified for them."
Ms White stressed sex was "just one component of sexuality and it's only one expression of intimacy".
Ms White spent 20 years working as a clinical nurse consultant in geriatrics and aged-care education with Hunter New England Health and recently retired after four years with Alzheimer's Australia NSW.
Her talk at the dementia training centre, based at the University of Wollongong's Innovation Campus, will run from 6pm to 7pm next Thursday, February 28.
The lecture is free but registration is essential to attend the talk. Call 4221 5927 before 12.30pm on the day.