90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Thursday, August 1, 2013

Nursing Home Encourages Residents To Have Sex



A quick scan of the calendar at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in Bronx, New York, makes it look like just another nursing home: movie night, trivia, a trip to a Yankees game.

But, as reported in a recent Bloomberg series (article list below), the Hebrew Home is different. The nursing facility actively encourages and supports sex and intimacy among its residents — including those with dementia.

But the original report in Bloomberg News also told heart breaking stories about a nursing home in Iowa, where an elderly couple with dementia had sex, and ultimately staffers were fired, the couple was pulled apart and one family sued, calling it rape.

They do not give up a civil right simply because they are in need of nursing care in a facility.
– Daniel Reingold

With an issue so fraught with painful possibilities, is the Hebrew Home doing the right thing?

“Very few nursing homes around the country acknowledged the sexual behavior or intimacy of their residents,” Daniel Reingold, president and CEO of the Hebrew Home, told Here & Now. “We realized that there needed to be a grown-up conversation and a grown-up policies and procedures to govern this behavior.”

Reingold says the nursing home’s policy and procedures provide a non-judgmental, safe and effective strategy to support adults’ well-being.

“Our position is very strongly that consenting adults who have capacity, this is a civil right of theirs,” he said. “They do not give up a civil right simply because they are in need of nursing care in a facility. And that our obligation as a nursing facility is to encourage their civil rights, as we would do with respect to voting.”

However, the question of consent becomes problematic when patients have dementia, and families can become deeply upset if their parent or partner is intimate with someone else.

Reingold says that just because someone has dementia, it does not mean they are incapable of making a choice in a given moment.

He acknowledges however, that it isn’t a simple issue, and “consent is a difficult and mercurial thing.”

But a policy regarding sexual expression, which involves residents, caretakers and families, creates the conditions to avoid or minimize unwanted sexual contact or unwanted intimacy.

The Hebrew Home has had several residents who have become romantically involved, and those relationship have generally been good for the residents and acceptable to the families, Reingold said.

One resident, who Reingold calls “Phil,” became involved with another man, “Harold,” at the facility. But Phil was still married to his wife.

“These gentlemen found comfort with each other, and we had the job of discussing it with the wife,” Reingold said. “And once she realized how happy Phil was with Harold, she began to appreciate that it was giving him pleasure at the end of his life. And she began to become accepting of it.”

Reingold says that growing old is a process of loss: losing your friends, losing your spouse, losing your mobility, losing your memory. But the sense of touch is the last to go.

“Some research shows that the sense of touch never goes, even if a person is in a coma,” Reingold said. “And so why would we not want to encourage the pleasure of intimacy?”


Read more via Bloomberg

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Bill98

    How do we reconcile the concept of consent when one or both of the partners have dementia, with the idea of consent when they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs? If we say that a person who is under the influence of a substance is not in their right frame of mind and, therefore, cannot give consent, how can we then say that someone with dementia CAN give consent?

    • BlueCornMoon

      I agree. A person with severe dementia & awful short term memory can be easily manipulated & used by someone who may not be able to form a relationship with the people there, & you can bet it would be the usual scenario : the women would wind up being used the most. I’ve heard of cases where even staff members have taken advantage of demented or comatose patients. There was even one case where a staff member impregnated a comatose young woman who was in a nursing home. That can’t happen among elderly but it does show what CAN happen to mentally incapacitated people,especially women. There’s a fine line here that could easily be crossed.

  • Debra Jambor

    Hallelujah. If elderly people can still have sex they should have the ability and the right. Boo Jah for them! I hope me and my boyfriend can check in when ready! :)

  • Nancy

    Talk about happily ever after! The responsible and respectful approach of this facility is admirable. My mother had dementia and flourished in the facility I found for her. She was beautiful and a bit flirtatious with the sweet men there though I doubt there was anything intimate. Who indeed are we to judge our elders?

  • cosmopolite

    Nursing homes should welcome private places and times for conjugal visits. I think two elderly single patients can be humoured as well. But a married patient whose spouse is healthy and on the outside… that will require a lot of thought.

  • Nancy

    I would like to have heard what Reingold thought about nursing home residents having prostitutes in their rooms–this happened to someone I know.

  • Rhonda Nay

    This home has always been at the forefront from what I read! Keep it up.

  • longcat

    Intimacy in nursing facilities is and can be good for the individuals. However, that said, there are and can be challenges that surround these intimate relationships. For example, one person who is “in love” becomes abusive to others (staff and other residents) out of jealousy and misperceptions; intimate times can be offensive to other residents, e.g. excessive public displays of affection; conjugal visits (taking place in a shared room). As many nursing facilities have few private spaces, this can lead to individuals being on display more. Then there are the levels of intimacy and the acceptance and permission. Who is, can, intercede here? When touch, hugs, and kisses are OK, but nothing further? When there is short and long-term memory loss with one partner who wants only some levels of intimacy and the other wants more. And finally there are the emotional break-ups. Not every relationship ends happily ever after. How is this to be handled and in a small facility shared activities, etc. can launch new challenges. This is not to say that all relationships should be avoided, but is crucial that all staff, families, and residents are on the same page.

  • Kevin

    Obviously, people with dementia have civil rights. However, I don’t think it is unreasonable to believe that some people should be prevented from making decisions that they would not make if they were functioning cognitively.
    For me specifically, I personally would not want to have sex with someone other than my partner, and I would want staff to prevent me from having sex with someone else if I had serious enough dementia to not choose to only have sex with my partner.

  • Dave Holzman

    My aunt and uncle, Rose and Al Dobrof, worked at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale a long time ago. (I think one of them ran it.) One day a maintenance staffer came to one of them very upset. Two residents were having sex in the room of one of them. “What do I do???!” said the staffer?

    “Leave the room, and close the door very quietly.”

    I always did admire my aunt and uncle.

  • dwt

    I wonder if they use a denture dam?

  • Diana

    One real question is whether the woman in the consenting relationship is physically comfortable having sex. While at 68 I am still interested in having sex, I need plenty of lubricant, and there are certain positions which are painful for me due to arthritis and sciatica. I am not alone in challenges at this age. Has anyone considered whether the woman really enjoys sex at an advanced age, or if she simply enjoys the IDEA of sex? The spokesperson on the program was a male. Was it males and younger females who made this decision? Did they consider the possibilities above?

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 1 5 Comments

Breastfeeding Gets A Boost From Philadelphia Hospitals

The city's major birthing hospitals have stopped sending new moms home with baby formula, to encourage breastfeeding.

August 29 Comment

World Championship Tug-Of-War Is ‘A Thing Of Beauty’

This weekend's competition in Wisconsin is a bit more intense than it was in your grade school gym class.

August 29 Comment

Repelling Mosquitoes With A Natural Sticky Patch

The Kite Patch releases odors that block the bug's carbon dioxide receptors, sending them in another direction.

August 28 3 Comments

Catching Up With The Polyphonic Spree

The choral rock band out of Dallas, Texas, has been thrilling audiences with its live performances for over a decade.