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The Link Between Cognitive Function and Sexuality in Older Adults

12 October 2018
Karolanne O'Keefe

Publication Date
21 September 2018

Original Abstract
Experts agree that we know very little about sexuality among people living at home with AD or other cognitive problems. Older adults who have cognitive problems that impact the way they think and make decisions may ask physicians to help managing sexual problems. And caregivers may ask physicians about sexuality in the older adults for whom they provide care. One frequently asked question is: Do older adults always have the capacity to consent to sexual activity?

Researchers have previously shown that the majority of people aged 57 to 85 have a spouse or other intimate partner and, among those with a partner, most are sexually active. Having an active sexual life is linked to better physical and mental health, higher quality of life, and lower rates of loneliness. To learn more about the connection between sexuality and cognitive status, researchers designed a new study. They analyzed data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project to learn more about the relationship between sexual behavior, function, and cognition (people's ability to think and make decisions). Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers estimate that, among people living at home who are aged 62 and older, at least 1.8 million men and 1.4 million women with suspected or diagnosed dementia are sexually active. This number will more than double by 2050. However, rarely do these people (especially women) receive a physician's counseling about sexual changes that may occur with dementia or other medical conditions. The researchers suggested that these findings can inform improved counseling, treatment, and person-centered decision-making by physicians and other healthcare providers caring for people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Sexual activity is an important aspect of human function throughout your lifetime, said the researchers. They added that respectful care for older adults, including people with cognitive impairments, requires an understanding of sexual norms and problems -- and effective strategies to manage sexual concerns with dignity.

Tessier Lindau, T., Dale, W., Feldmeth, G., Gavrilova, N., M. Langa, K., A. Makelarski, J. and Wroblewski, K. (2018). The link between cognitive function and sexuality in older adults. American Geriatrics Society. DOI: 10. 1111/jgs.15511. 

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sexuality, sex, elderly, cognitive problems, partner, physical health, sexual health, mental health, quality of life


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