International Psychogeriatrics

Review Article

Sexuality, aging, and dementia

Susan Mary Benbowa1 c1 and Derek Beestona1

a1 Centre for Ageing and Mental Health, Staffordshire University, Stafford, UK


Background: Sexuality in later life and its relationship to dementia is a neglected topic: greater understanding of the area has the potential to contribute to the quality of life of people with dementia, their family members, and formal carers. We review current knowledge about sexuality, aging, and dementia.

Methods: We undertook a review of the recent literature to examine of the following areas: what is known about sexuality and aging, and about attitudes to sexuality and aging; what is known about the relevance of sexuality and aging to people living with dementia and their care; and the management of sexual behaviors causing concern to others.

Results: Sexual activity decreases in frequency with increasing age but many older people remain sexually active; there is no age limit to sexual responsiveness; and sexuality is becoming more important to successive cohorts of older people, including people living with dementia and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered elderly people. Attitudes and beliefs toward sexuality and aging are strongly influenced by stereotypes and myths, not only among the general public but also among those working in health and social care.

Conclusions: Professional bodies should include sexuality, aging, and dementia in their training curricula. More work is needed on the impact of environmental issues, particularly in group living situations, on older adults’ sexuality, and on consent issues. Ethical decision-making frameworks can be useful in practice. Organizations should investigate how to support staff in avoiding a problem-orientated approach and focus on providing holistic person-centered care.

(Received October 10 2011)

(Revised November 17 2011)

(Revised January 19 2012)

(Accepted January 26 2012)

(Online publication March 14 2012)


c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: Susan Mary Benbow, Visiting Professor, Centre for Ageing and Mental Health, Faculty of Health and Sciences, Staffordshire University, Blackheath Lane, Stafford ST18 0AD, UK. Phone: +44 7789 485435, +44 1785 353742. Email: