Changes in Intimacy and Sexuality in Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer’s disease can cause changes in intimacy and sexuality in both a person with the disease and the caregiver. The person with Alzheimer’s may be stressed by the changes in his or her memory and behaviors. Fear, worry, depression, anger, and low self-esteem (how much the person likes himself or herself) are common. The person may become dependent and cling to you. He or she may not remember your life together and feelings toward one another. The person may even fall in love with someone else.
You, the caregiver, may pull away from the person in both an emotional and physical sense. You may be upset by the demands of caregiving. You also may feel frustrated by the person’s constant forgetfulness, repeated questions, and other bothersome behaviors.
Most caregivers learn how to cope with these challenges, but it takes time. Some learn to live with the illness and find new meaning in their relationships with people who have Alzheimer’s.
How to Cope with Changes in Intimacy
Most people with Alzheimer’s disease need to feel that someone loves and cares about them. They also need to spend time with other people as well as you. Your efforts to take care of these needs can help the person with Alzheimer’s to feel happy and safe. It’s important to reassure the person that:
- You love him or her.
- You will keep him or her safe.
- Others also care about him or her.
The following tips may help you cope with your own needs:
- Talk with a doctor, social worker, or clergy member about these changes. It may feel awkward to talk about such personal issues, but it can help.
- Talk about your concerns in a support group.
- Think more about the positive parts of the relationship.
For more resources, see Intimacy and Sexuality: Resources for Dementia Caregivers.
How to Cope with Changes in Sexuality
The well spouse/partner or the person with Alzheimer’s disease may lose interest in having sex. This change can make you feel lonely or frustrated. You may feel that:
- It’s not okay to have sex with someone who has Alzheimer’s.
- The person with Alzheimer’s seems like a stranger.
- The person with Alzheimer’s seems to forget that the spouse/partner is there or how to make love.
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may have side effects from medications that affect his or her sexual interest. He or she may also have memory loss, changes in the brain, or depression that affect his or her interest in sex.
Here are some tips for coping with changes in sexuality:
- Explore new ways of spending time together.
- Focus on other ways to show affection, such as snuggling or holding hands.
- Try other nonsexual forms of touching, such as massage, hugging, and dancing.
- Consider other ways to meet your sexual needs. Some caregivers report that they masturbate.
Sometimes, people with Alzheimer’s disease are overly interested in sex. This is called hypersexuality. The person may masturbate a lot and try to seduce others. These behaviors are symptoms of the disease and don’t always mean that the person wants to have sex.
To cope with hypersexuality, try giving the person more attention and reassurance. You might gently touch, hug, or use other kinds of affection to meet his or her emotional needs. Some people with this problem need medicine to control their behaviors. Talk to the doctor about what steps to take.
For More Information About Changes in Intimacy and Sexuality in Alzheimer's
NIA Alzheimer’s and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
The National Institute on Aging’s ADEAR Center offers information and free print publications about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias for families, caregivers, and health professionals. ADEAR Center staff answer telephone, email, and written requests and make referrals to local and national resources.
This content is provided by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure that it is accurate, authoritative, and up to date.
Content reviewed: May 17, 2017