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20 May, 2012

I noted search terms looking for any connection between dementia and sexual abuse, especially incest.  While I have no definitive statistics on that, I have no doubt that it occurs. A diagnosis of dementia requires that there be memory impairment plus at least one of the following:

  • Agnosia;  an inability to name common objects
  • Apraxia; an inability to carry out common motor skill operations, such as buttoning a shirt
  • Aphasia; either or both an inability to express thoughts or to understand the verbalizations of others and (the kicker here)
  • A disturbance in executive functioning.  Executive functioning includes such things as judgment, inhibition and calculation

Loss of judgment and inhibition are common in moderate to advanced dementia and, I have no doubt, can result in some afflicted elders being inappropriate with minors.  People with dementia may well pose some additional risk to minors (and adult relatives) in their families when it comes to sexual behavior.  One neuropsychologist, from whom I took a day-long training about dementia entitled The Aging Brain, went so far as to speculate that there could be some adaptive benefit in loss of sexual inhibition since it offered a last chance to procreate.

Again, I have no specific information and am unaware of any targeted studies, but if the senior had a history of sexualizing relationships (hitting on women or otherwise pushing boundaries in his premorbid state), I have little doubt that the loss of executive functioning would put them at increased risk.  It would probably behoove families to be on guard for this behavior if there are minors around.  Such behavior may well be the root of the phrase “dirty old man.”  I suspect as well that, since sexual abuse runs in families, such families having elder members with dementia would be at even greater risk. Survivors should take extra precautions regarding having their children unsupervised around elders.

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