Sex, Seniors, and Consent

In August 2014, Iowa State Assemblyman Henry Rayhons was formally charged with felony sexual abuse.   The 79-year-0ld politician's crime?   Allegedly having sex with his second wife Donna, who was then a patient in a special care facility for people with Alzheimer's disease.    While the case would eventually end with Henry being acquitted, it still raises troubling questions about the often controversial issue of sexuality in seniors and the barriers imposed by nursing home staff.   

When Henry married Donna Young in 2007, it seemed an ideal second marriage for both of them.  Henry had four children from his first marriage to his wife, Marvalyn, while Donna had three daughters.   Even after Donna developed Alzheimer's Disease, Henry was a frequent visitor to the nursing home which she entered as a voluntary patient.   Even as Donna's condition deteriorated, Henry's visits would continue and, as her own daughter would later testify,  Donna "just lit up every time Henry would enter the room." 

They had a loving relationship and were often seen hugging or holding hands during his visits.  There was certainly nothing to indicate that he was abusive or that Donna was in any way afraid of her husband.  The only real conflict came from the different views Henry and Donna's daughter had about the kind of care she should receive.   Henry wanted to take Donna out of the nursing home for visits to familiar places but the oldest daughter objected to allowing Donna out for anything but attending church on Sunday. 

Another source of friction came from from staff members referred to as "inappropriate sexual contact" between Henry and his wife.  One social worker even wrote her concerns right into Donna's care plan with the note:  "Given Donna's cognitive state, do you feel she is able to given consent for any sexual activity?"    Dr. John Brady, medical director of the nursing home agreed and staff advised Henry that he should refrain from any sex with Donna.   As it would turn out later, Henry and staff members had different ideas about what "sexual activity" actually meant.

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.



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