SENIOR POWER: Senior Sexuality.

By Helen Rippier Wheeler,
Saturday October 19, 2013 - 09:31:00 AM

“Of all the passions, the old man should avoid a foolish passion for women.”

Dr. John Hill (1716-1775)

According to The Old Man’s Guide to Health and Longer Life in 1764 England, Dr. Hill decreed that to marry was everyone’s duty except for the aged. Note that Samuel Johnson considered Hill "an ingenious man, but had no veracity."

There is still a certain amount of taboo attached to sex among older people. Another doctor, this one contemporary, when asked whether it is possible to maintain a sexual life responded with chapter 13 “Maintain your sexual life” in his new book, Winning Strategies for Successful Aging. Sex retards aging, if for no other reason than that it is also good exercise. Seventy-eight year old Eric Pfeiffer, M.D. writes that men continue to be interested in sex into their 70s. (Men, that is!). Sex in the nursing home? Yes… sez he, you are still a sexual being at any age. But he also provides “a cautionary note” regarding sexually transmitted diseases.  

In Australia, "Seniors [are] not retiring from bedroom." (Sydney Morning Herald, February 25, 2013). Ita Buttrose, Australian of the Year and ambassador for NSW Seniors Week, says it may come as a shock to Generation Y that their grandparents still enjoy an active sex life. 

In 1995, The Home (Riverdale, New York) introduced a senior sexuality policy is considered the first of its kind. It states that residents “have the right to seek out and engage in sexual expression,” including “words, gestures, movements or activities which appear motivated by the desire for sexual gratification.” "Sex in Geriatrics Sets Hebrew Home Apart in Elderly Care," (Bloomberg, July 23, 2013). 

"Nursing Home Encourages Residents to Have Sex" was the topic discussed on U.S. National Public Radio Here and Now on August 1, 2013. In addition to the story, there is an audio transcript (running time: 16 minutes, 6 seconds) available at the site. 

The Hallandale Beach senior center audience sits in rapt silence while Kate GeMeiner holds up what, from the back of the room, appears to be a see-through balloon. It isn’t. The 83-year old former hospice chaplain, PTA president, and great-grandmother -- aka the Condom Lady and Dr. Truth -- tells it like it is. Audience members are retired, ailing from myriad chronic medical conditions, and considered to be impervious to certain natural urges. But in the age of Viagra, GeMeiner wants to make sure they’re practicing safe sex. She has been preaching her version of the gospel to this unlikely audience for about two decades, taking her show, complete with foil-wrapped condoms, to senior centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, health fairs. Reporter Ana Veciana-Suarez’s email address ( accompanies her August 12, 2013 Miami Herald "Sex & the senior citizen: teaching about condoms to the Social Security crowd." 

On a more serious note, the American Association for the Advancement of Science reports research that confirms sexual function in older adults with thoracolumbar-pelvic instrumentation has been found possible. The importance of this study lies in the positive message it has for older patients with extensive thoracolumbar–pelvic instrumentation. The AAAS also reports that treatment helps sex stage a comeback after menopause. The results of the CLOSER survey -- Clarifying Vaginal Atrophy’s Impact on Sex and Relationships -- emotional and physical impact of vaginal discomfort on North American postmenopausal women and their partners, will be published in the February 2014 print edition of Menopause.  



California has become the latest state to move towards tightening oversight of home health agencies that provide custodial care. On October 13, 2013 Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Home Care Services Consumer Protection Act of 2013. If and when it is in place, it will require agencies to 

  • conduct background checks on workers,
  • provide 5 hours of training,
  • list aides in an online registry, and
  • obtain a license certifying their compliance with basic standards.
Unfortunately, he asked for a delay in putting the legislation in place until January 2016. 

The move to tighten industry regulations in California was spurred in part by an April 2011 study documenting the abuse and neglect of older adults by caregivers, including some with criminal records, who had not been screened by agencies. Home health agencies opposed the bill’s training and background check requirements. He vetoed a similar bill last year; this year’s version dropped a requirement that aides hired from referral agencies or directly by seniors get background checks and be listed in the online registry. Critics have long argued that the home care industry has been too lightly regulated. According to a new study in the Journal of Applied Gerontology, only 15 states require training for home care workers or on-site supervision of their activities.  

Elder abuse is usually defined as the physical or psychological mistreatment of a senior. Elder abuse crimes are usually considered to fall into 4 main categories, including sexual assaults: 

Physical abuse, including assaults, batteries, sexual assaults, false imprisonment and endangerment; Physical neglect by a caregiver, including withholding medical services or hygiene that exposes the elderly person to the risk of serious harm; Psychological (mental) abuse, including making threats or the infliction of emotional harm; and Financial abuse, including theft of personal items such as cash, investments, real property and jewelry. 

On Thursday, November 7, 2013, the Alameda County Library Older Adult Services will present a free program on preventing elder abuse. Speakers from Alameda County's Adult Protective Services will discuss types of abuse that are investigated, how to make a report, and how to avoid becoming a victim of abuse. Remember: elder abuse includes sexual abuse. No reservations are required for this free program at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. (510)526-3720. 1:30-2:45 P.M. This Library has a free parking lot. The program will be repeated throughout the Library system; for locations and dates, call (510) 745-1491.