The Importance of Intimacy in our “Older” Years
I bet you thought, “oh, my goodness!” when you say the title of this blog post. But, it’s not going to cover only sex. Sex is not the only kind of intimacy people need…sometimes just being touched can be just what someone needs. In this entry, find information on elderly and senior intimacy, and how as a care giver or family member, you can ensure their needs are being meant physically, too.~
-Age & Physical Capacity does not define how much physical intimacy we need. There are many reasons that someone may be unable to have physical intimacy, and here are some reasons below.
Loss of a partner: Loss or absence of a partner is probably the most common age-related barrier to intimacy.
Disorders: Various disorders that become more common with aging can interfere with physical intimacy. Vascular disorders and diabetes can cause erectile dysfunction; arthritis can limit movements and make them painful. The pain, discomfort, drugs, and worry associated with a disorder can dampen the desire for intimacy. For the partner, the stress and demands of caregiving may interfere with intimacy.
Use of drugs: The elderly are more likely to take drugs (eg, antihypertensives, psychoactive drugs) that can cause problems affecting intimacy (eg, erectile dysfunction, reduced libido).
Age-related changes: Levels of sex hormones decrease, causing changes (eg, vaginal atrophy, reduced vaginal lubrication) that make sexual intercourse uncomfortable or difficult. Libido may decrease.
Reluctance to discuss effects of aging: If elderly people develop problems that interfere with physical intimacy or if they feel embarrassed about changes in their body (eg, wrinkles, sagging flesh), they may not want to discuss these changes with their partner or with a health care practitioner, who may be able to suggest solutions.
Negative stereotypes about sexuality in the elderly: Even healthy elderly people may have internalized negative stereotypes and think sexuality is inappropriate or abnormal after a certain age.
Discrepancy in expectations of partners: One partner may want certain physical expressions of intimacy, but the other does not.
Lack of privacy: Elderly people who live with family members or in a long-term care facility have fewer opportunities for privacy, which are necessary for physical intimacy.
Shift to other forms of intimacy: Passions may mellow after years of living together. Sexual intercourse may become less frequent or stop. Many couples—most without paying much attention to it—grow comfortable with other forms of intimacy (eg, touching, massaging, kissing, verbal expressions of affection) that express familiarity, caring, or engagement with their partner.
Nonetheless, many elderly people continue to have a healthy sexual relationship. Intimacy, particularly physical intimacy, can help prevent depression and improve self-esteem and physical health. If elderly people have a new sex partner, they should practice safe sex. Acquiring sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, is a risk, regardless of age.
-How to Promote Physical Touch and Ensure Intimacy Needs are Met
Intimacy, that closeness and familiarity that is the hallmark of love and friendship, is critical for humans from the time we are born and our mothers cradle us in their arms. As we age, our need for physical intimacy doesn’t diminish. In fact, for those elderly who require more advanced care, their need for friends and family to express physical intimacy may increase. As the health of your elderly loved one declines they may be more isolated and physically unable to reach out and express their love physically—they need you more and more to reach out to them.
Physical touch and intimacy can strengthen us physically and emotionally. Research is showing that regular, intimate touch can build our brains, muscles, bones, cardiovascular system, and immune systems. As caregivers, family, and friends of the elderly, we have the immense power to help those we care for with a loving and friendly touch.
Direct Intimacy—All of us appreciate the warm hug of a friend or holding the hand of someone we love. When you are with your loved one, remember to take time to give them that extra hug. Watch for opportunities to embrace them.
Indirect Intimacy—Helping an aging loved one with personal care (such as brushing their hair) or assisting them as they stand and walk provides a great time to reach out to them with a loving touch. They may also greatly benefit from therapeutic touch such as massages and foot rubs.
Bring the Kids—Make sure that the kids in your life get a chance to express their love. In order to help your child overcome any fear they may have (a sick individual or the various medical paraphernalia may intimidate some children), bring them often to help them get used to the environment. The spontaneous and exuberant physical affection that many children have can be particularly uplifting
Personal Attention—When talking with an elderly individual, face them directly to help convey your attention. Not only does this help assure them that you are engaged in the conversation, it also helps those with hearing problems.
Remember, through a simple, friendly, and loving touch we have the power to convey love, compassion, reassurance, and safety. As you care for and visit with the elderly individuals in your life, make a conscious effort to reach out to them in love.