How should nursing homes approach sex lives of residents?

A recent study found that frequent sexual activity is the norm among older people

How should nursing homes approach sex lives of residents?

File photo. Picture by John Stillwell PA Archive/PA Images

Nursing homes should be supporting intimacy and sexual activity among their residents, according to geriatric experts.

A recent study - released last week as part of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing at Trinity College Dublin - found that frequent sexual activity is the norm among older people.

The research found 59% of over 50s are sexually active - and of those, 69% are sexually active weekly or monthly.

The researchers also found that being sexually active has positive implications for a person’s health and their perception of ageing.

Eileen O'Keefe, clinical nurse manager at St Luke’s nursing home in Cork, spoke to Newstalk Breakfast about their approach.

"People don't retire themselves as sexual beings, as they may do in their professional life," she explained. "It's a key part of us as people - and that doesn't change as we get older.

"People are coming into long-term care for a variety of reasons, and it wouldn't be unusual to have people from their 50s up to their 90s residing in residential care."

Quality of life

"Our priority and our philosophy is meant to be that we embrace the whole person," Eileen observed. "We very much focus on their quality of life and enabling them to do as much as they can - despite whatever limitations there are.

"If we apply that to their physical care or their social care needs or their spirituality... sexuality is no different. The first place we need to start in residential care is we need to all agree and identify it's a basic human right and basic human need.

"We need to be delivering care and supporting staff to make to make [residents] feel more confident in bringing up conversation. You can have all the facilities in the room - a single room and all that kind of thing - but if they feel too awkward or embarrassed to start the conversation, chances are we're giving the impression to the older person that this isn't something they're comfortable talking with."

Eileen also observed that, more generally, moving into long-term care can improve individual's quality of life.

"There's often a negative connotation when people are getting old... But for a lot of people [moving into long-term care] can actually enhance their quality of life, because it's supporting them. It's an opportunity to develop new relationships, new friendships... it's a sense of security for people."

She explained: "I think we're all opening our horizons and ideas of sexuality [...] We have people who've developed new relationships. We have people coming who are now identifying as lesbian or gay - if you look at the older population that's maybe something they could have comfortably done before.

"There's going to be a lot more challenges coming down the line, and we need to make sure that we're ahead of it so that we can best enable to live to the fullest of their life while they're with is in long-term care," she concluded.