In my Tuesday posting, I spoke to some of the issues of caregivers about helping their older, single loved ones to find meaningful quality of life. In part, that may translate into helping a loved one to find social and age peers within their communities as their lives and perhaps even the meaning of quality of life may have changed. It also can extend to their desires for maximal independence, developing or preserving meaningful friendships, or even finding personal connections or intimacy. Intimacy? Yes, and you may have thought that your first talk with your parents about sex when you were an adolescent was awkward. Hold on.
As a geriatric care manager, part of the job description is about helping older clients with the challenges of aging, and part of it is about helping caregivers to appreciate their loved one’s changing predicament and embrace those changes as well. “Mature intimacy” is one of those dimensions that call for equal portions of each.
If you have an older loved one who is single and wants to have a meaningful relationship, you likely need some guidelines:
- The first thing you need to do is set aside the old “tapes” that may be in your head, your old beliefs about what intimacy is for you or was for your older loved one. Things are different now.
- Now, turn that around and appreciate that your older loved one’s early experiences will not guide their quest for a meaningful relationship now. The world has changed and age also has intervened. As a caregiver, you can gently help them to feel more comfortable with life’s changes.
- Appreciate that you may be asked about life and intimacy, and if you are not comfortable talking about it with your older loved one, encourage a conversation with the family doctor or a counselor or even sex workshops in some communities.
- If you do break the silence remember that intimacy is more than intercourse. Just touch – as in holding hands – is something that older adults may long for. Try to set aside arbitrary expectations about what sex is that are based on what sex was. Encourage your older loved one to relax and enjoy the company.
- Recognize your limits as a caregiver. A lot of parents had their children read books about intimacy before having “the talk.” There are books available for mature sexual encounters as well (e.g. “Older, Wiser, Sexually Smarter: 30 Sex Ed Lessons for Adults Only).
- Safe sex is critical in a time when STIs are potentially everywhere. There is a web site called SaferSex4Seniors. They also are on YouTube.
- There are professionals who can help your older loved one. Check out the web site for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists.
Now, that was not so bad was it?
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.