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Published September 15, 2012, 11:32 PM

Bursack: Daughter worries about father’s sexual aggression

DEAR CAROL: My father is in a nursing home because of Alzheimer’s disease. He’s become sexually aggressive and often grabs at the aides’ bodies. I get so embarrassed when I see that. The nurses say it’s his dementia and that he’s not unusual, but I wish there was something we could do to stop this embarrassing behavior.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My father is in a nursing home because of Alzheimer’s disease. He’s become sexually aggressive and often grabs at the aides’ bodies. I get so embarrassed when I see that. The nurses say it’s his dementia and that he’s not unusual, but I wish there was something we could do to stop this embarrassing behavior. He was never out of line before he got sick. When we confront him about his behavior, he denies doing anything wrong. – Karie

DEAR KARIE: While sexual aggression is hard for the family of a loved one with dementia to witness, it’s only one manifestation of the lack of inhibition that is common with some dementias. Please believe the staff when they tell you that this is not uncommon behavior with dementia. They’ve been trained to handle these situations, so mainly it’s your own embarrassment you need to cope with. Your dad’s hormones are still active, but his brain can’t send him the message to restrain himself.

It’s possible that he may even make a pass at a family member. One woman wrote that her dad thinks she’s his wife and gets upset when she “refuses” him. A man wrote that his dad keeps approaching his daughter-in-law, who is the writer’s wife. She was once close to the father, but now avoids him. The family knows the father’s behavior stems from the disease, but knowing doesn’t take away the problem. The family reluctantly decided that the daughter-in-law would have to limit her direct care of her father-in-law.

The lack of inhibitions that can be a symptom of dementia is apparent in other ways, as well. These behaviors may not be as embarrassing as sexually overstepping boundaries, but they still can be disturbing. People often become very blunt, telling others that they don’t like their clothes, that they are fat or skinny, or even that they are ugly. The target of the seemingly rude behavior can be anyone, including medical people or long-time friends or family members.

As far as your father’s denying doing anything wrong, I’m sure he believes that. He doesn’t remember what he did five minutes ago, and has no way of understanding the social implications of his behavior, anyway. In other words, he’s not deliberately lying when he denies what you say he did. He truly doesn’t remember.

Please talk with your dad’s doctor. In some cases physicians have prescribed drugs to lower testosterone levels or in other ways control sexual urges. There are side effects to these treatments, so you and his doctor will have to discuss alternatives. The main thing is to keep communicating with the nursing home staff and remind yourself that they know that this is the disease that is making your dad act inappropriately. Beneath this behavior he can’t control, he’s still your dad.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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