Our continuing professional development (CPD) articles are designed to assist with your nursing skills and practice.
Why you should read this article: • To understand the importance of supporting the sexuality and sexual expression of people living with a dementia • To enhance your awareness of a new person-centred paradigm that can be used when undertaking conversations about sexuality and sexual issues • To recognise the issues related to sexual rights and consent that may arise in the care of people living with a dementia While sexuality is integral to being human and supporting sexual expression is fundamental to delivering person-centred care, many nurses find this area challenging. This is particularly true when working with people living with a dementia, irrespective of their age. However, it can be especially challenging in older adults. This article aims to support nurses in their work with individuals and couples living with a dementia. After briefly defining the term ‘sexuality’ and acknowledging the effects of the most common types of dementia, the article discusses the importance of person-centred conversations. It details a new person-centred paradigm that can assist nurses to learn about people’s sexuality and sexual wishes. Through enhanced understanding and increased objectivity, nurses can be better equipped to support people to continue living fulfilled sexual lives according to their choices and priorities. The article concludes by summarising the legal and professional context and nursing responsibilities involved in addressing sexuality with people living with a dementia, specifically when mental capacity becomes an issue.
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Case study examples of challenging ethical situations that might be encountered
Sexuality is as important in older age as it is throughout life, and its expression can be positive, empowering, joyful and life-affirming. The concept of sexuality has many dimensions including identity, need and desire, relationships and behaviour, all of which develop through ageing and life experiences. The evidence on all aspects of sexuality in later life tends to focus on biological dysfunction rather than fulfilment, well-being and quality of life, and does not acknowledge the enormous diversity of older people in terms of age, sexualities, ethnicity and culture. However, the evidence base is growing and, in broad terms, what older people want is becoming more clearly articulated. This article acknowledges the current evidence and, building on this, suggests ways in which nurses working in health and social care services can address some of the challenges, enhance their own understanding and skills, and work creatively with older individuals to offer services that help them to live, and end, their lives according to their individual identities, choices and deepest, most personal, priorities.
Skin changes associated with age are inevitable. Ageing is associated with structural and functional changes of the skin that result in increased vulnerability. The most common functional skin changes are dryness (xerosis), which causes itching and discomfort, and skin fragility, increasing patients’ vulnerability to skin damage. Dry skin and itching have a significant effect on older people, which can be further exacerbated by products used for washing and bathing. The management of dry skin and itching is fundamental to older people’s care and nurses should act in their best interests to ensure that the potential for skin damage is addressed. However, many older people are often reluctant to discuss the problem, are embarrassed and will self-treat or try to hide an underlying problem such as incontinence or worries about being infectious or dirty. This can be challenging when managing their skin care because of under-reporting, self-medicating or the assumption that it is ‘just old age’.