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2012 Grants - Syme
Examining Sexual Consent Capacity in Cognitively Compromised Older Adults
Maggie Syme, Ph.D.
San Diego State University Research Foundation
San Diego, California
2012 New Investigator Research Grant
Studies estimate that 40 to 60 percent of people residing in long-term care facilities have dementia. The care of such patients often presents considerable challenges, as people with dementia lose their capacity to carry out daily functions or make basic decisions. This diminished capacity extends to the area of social interactions that are of an intimate or sexual nature. People with dementia become unable to make informed decisions about whether to engage in sexual activity, and they can become the victims of sexual coercion. Despite this potential threat, no standard guidelines exist for regulating sexual behavior in long-term care facilities. Often, local facilities have to create their own guidelines, which tend to become so restrictive that mentally capable residents are completely denied the option of sexual activity. Such policies may stem from a desire to protect an individual's safety, but they can also be influenced by less benign factors, including social stigma or family pressures. Remedying this issue will require general, nationwide guidelines for what constitutes sexual consent in people with dementia. Such guidelines would help each local care facility adopt policies that strike a better balance between resident protection and resident autonomy.
Maggie Syme, Ph.D., and colleagues plan to lay some of the groundwork for developing these guidelines. They will analyze published expert opinion on how sexual consent should be defined for mentally compromised people. They will also interview a nationally representative sample of nursing directors in long-term care facilities. These interviews will focus on how different institutions perceive the issue of sexual consent and sexual activity among people with dementia. They will also analyze the many institutional policies designed to regulate such activity. Dr. Syme's efforts could produce vital information to guide the work of future dementia care studies and policymakers.