Sexual intimacy in memory care

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Love birdsThe attached New York Times article by Pam Belluck addresses the ambiguous loss experienced by men and women whose spouses are still alive, but not fully there.  More specifically, it addresses the need for intimacy that still exists for the spouse without cognitive decline, and that can also exist for the spouse with the decline.

It is a well-known fact that advancing age doesn’t mean the end of desire for sexual intimacy.  Whether in the privacy of ones home or in a long-term care housing situation, sex is alive and well.  Even people with varying degrees of dementia maintain the desire for intimacy.  What the above NY Times article so carefully exposes, however, is that sometimes the act of consent for such intimacy can be a subjective one when viewed by a third party.

Mr. Henry Rayhons and his wife, Donna Lou Rayhons, enjoyed a healthy marital relationship, second marriages for both.  In March 2014, seven years into their marriage, Mrs. Rayhons was placed in a nursing home as a result of abnormal behavior indicative of cognitive decline.  Although she ceased to remember other close family members, including her own adult children, Mrs. Rayhons continued to be quite enamored with her husband, the staff even acknowledging that she “was always pleased to see Henry.”

Loving coupleMr. Rayhons was a very attentive spouse, visiting his wife in her private room mornings and evenings, and taking her on outings he felt she would enjoy.  The latter activity went against the staff’s recommendations that he limit the number of outside trips with his wife.  (His going against other staff recommendations would eventually get Mr. Rayhons into considerable trouble.)  From a long-term care ombudsman’s standpoint, however, I assure you that a staff’s recommendations are not legally binding.

Residents’ rights laws protect a resident’s right to enjoy a healthy quality of life, something Mrs. Rayhon’s husband believed he was providing her with outside outings.  To use his “disregard” of their recommendations as a cogent argument against him is an unsuitable one.

A few months later, on May 23, 2014, after Mrs. Rayhons was moved from a private room to a double, it is alleged that Henry Rayhons participated in sexual relations with his wife, an allegation that was based on comments made by her roommate who heard “sexual noises” on the other side of the curtain separating the room’s two beds.  After investigation, seminal fluid matching Mr. Rayhons’s DNA was found on his wife’s bedding and clothing.  “The defense lawyer, Joel Yunek, said a rape kit found no semen in Mrs. Rayhons’s vagina or signs of tearing.”  There was no physical trauma whatsoever.

Mr. Rayhons admitted that he and his wife were still intimate with each other but he did not recall having been intimate on the date in question.  Arguably, the date in question is important because this intimate encounter with his wife is alleged to have occurred eight days after staff members told Mr. Rayhons they believed she was mentally incapable of consenting to sex.  That’s where the third party assessment  – and subsequent recommendation – come in yet again.

Legal scalesMrs. Rayhons’s adult daughter, Suzan Brunes – also a third party to the marriage – expressed her concerns about her stepfather’s disregard for the staff’s recommendations, and told staff of her concerns surrounding her stepfather’s intimacy with her mother.  Eventually, she successfully petitioned for guardianship of Mr. Rayhons’s wife.  (The petition made no mention of the stepfather’s alleged sexual activity with his wife.)  Ms. Brunes decided to give more credence to the staff’s assessment of what was best for her mother, than that of the man who lived with her mother in a mutually satisfying relationship for several years.  With her newly acquired guardianship, Ms. Brunes moved her mother to a different care facility with a special dementia unit and severely restricted the number of visits her stepfather could have with his wife.

Soon after Donna Lou Rayhons died, her husband was arrested and charged with third-degree felony sexual abuse, based on the May 2014 incident in which he was alleged to have been intimate with his wife after being told she was not capable of consenting to intimacy.  What do you think?  Could Mrs. Rayhons have knowingly consented to being intimate with her husband?  Take the following ideas proposed by experts on this subject:

  • “Touch is one of the last pleasures we lose,” said Daniel Reingold, chief executive of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx;
  • “Unless people are in a ‘vegetative’ state, said Patricia M. Speck, a forensic nurse at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing, ‘ there’s a lot of things they might not be able to do like (managing) money and time, and recognition of children, but they have the capacity for self-determination and intimate relationships.'”
  • “Gayle Doll, director of the Center on Aging at Kansas State University, said a person with dementia might not assent with words, but with body language or facial expression.”
  • “While there are established methods of measuring memory, reasoning, and the ability to dress, bathe and balance checkbooks, no widely used method exists for assessing the ability to consent to intimate relations.”

Desire may survive long after names and faces are forgotten.  I hope that fact will come into consideration when judge and jury weigh the evidence brought before them at trial.





5 thoughts on “Sexual intimacy in memory care

    boomer98053 responded:
    April 22, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Reblogged this on Baby Boomers and More and commented:

    Today, 4/22/2015, Mr. Rayhons was found not guilty of third-degree sexual abuse of his wife. Please read a comment I posted on this article with an update that occurred during the trial process relating to the roommate’s depiction of the evening in question.


    boomer98053 responded:
    April 16, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    April 16, 2015 update: in an Iowa court earlier today, the roommate of Mrs. Rayhons – the one who said that sexual noises were going on behind the curtain – now says she can’t be sure what the noises were all about. When testifying in court she indicated that she heard a lot of whispering going on and she felt like her being there was an intrusion on their conversation. Mr. Rayhons indicated that he had prayed with his wife that night.
    To be fair, there are discrepancies in Mr. Rayhons’s stories as well, but for the most part, those could be categorized as confusing days/dates he had visited his wife. He’s acknowledged all along that he and his wife had been intimate at the nursing home in the past but he insists that did not occur on the night in question. The prosecutor has indicated, however, that even sexual encounters prior to that date are under scrutiny because of the issue of consent.


    Jill Weatherholt said:
    April 15, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    I think you might be right, Irene.


    Jill Weatherholt said:
    April 15, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    This is such a sad story, Irene. I hope you’ll keep us posted on the outcome. Personally, I don’t agree with the charges.


      boomer98053 responded:
      April 15, 2015 at 3:48 pm

      No doubt there are unfortunate instances of sexual contact that fall into the category of felony sexual abuse, but my gut feeling in this story is that abuse was not an issue. I sense there is another issue that comes into play with the stepdaughter having a tainted view of a man – a man who is not her own father – being intimate with her mother who, without argument, is cognitively impaired. The daughter may be acting out of protectiveness, but that protectiveness may be unjustified in this instance.


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