Uncovering the challenge of sex and intimacy in care home

Our Innovation team have been investigating how to better support care homes with residents living with dementia on the subject of sex and intimacy.

Hear from Alzheimer's Society's Innovation team, who work hard and at speed to create new solutions to identified needs or problems. Over nine weeks, they have been investigating how to better support care homes with residents living with dementia on the subject of sex and intimacy.

Intimacy in care homes

We want to enhance the well-being of care home residents living with dementia. February is often a time when many think of love, particularly around Valentine’s Day.

Imagine you are living in a care home. It is likely that you would still want to continue with every aspect of your life as you had before you lived there. To hold hands or cuddle with a loved one. To share a bed and maintain a sex life with a partner. Perhaps you might like to seek a new partner if single. These are things that many of us take for granted.

We have been working with Good Innovation on a ‘sprint’ project. This means moving rapidly through an intense cycle of learning, investigating, finding solutions and experimenting. The aim is to find a solution as fast as possible.

L.I.F.E by Good Innovation

L.I.F.E cycle for the sprint project. © Good Innovation

1. Learn

During this phase, our heads were bursting with facts, opinions and experiences from reading around the topic. When we combine sex and intimacy with age, dementia and care homes, it seems the door is thrown wide open for judgments and debate.

Natasha Howard, Project Support Officer

Natasha Howard, Project Support Officer, visiting a care home as part of the sprint project

Through our reading, we came across the often mistaken belief that older people don't have sex. There was even at times a sense of disgust that older people would have sex. However, these feelings often changed when people imagine themselves living in a care home. They would base this on how they would like to live their own lives.

We spoke to experts including the research team from OPUS (Older People’s Understanding of Sexuality), our own staff members, volunteers and the healthcare group BUPA. This helped to make sure we were asking the right questions during the investigate stage.

2. Investigate

We visited six care homes around the country and spoke to residents living with dementia. We also spoke with their families, care home staff and care home managers.

From these conversations, we grouped together similar viewpoints. We created anonymous ‘personas’ that were useful for testing potential solutions.

Innovation sprint workshop

Stakeholders participating in the creative workshop

These are some extracts from the personas:

'I love my wife dearly, I would like intimacy to continue, holding hands, a kiss on the cheek, having a cuddle lying on the bed together, these things have always been important to us.'
– Extract from a partner’s persona

'I could never see my mother in a relationship with anyone other than my dad. I think this is down to the dementia.'
– Extract from a family member’s persona

'I still have needs. I don’t have a man, so there is no one to cuddle or kiss.'
– Extract from a persona of an individual living with dementia

3. Find

We held a creative workshop that brought together a large group of experts on the subjects of care homes, sex, intimacy and dementia. As a result, we generated over 70 ideas for solutions from which we chose our top five.

We exhibited these solutions in an ideas gallery in Alzheimer’s Society’s central office. We asked staff and volunteers to vote on their favourite idea and provide feedback.

Innovation team workshop

The ideas gallery that presented potential solutions Next, we took the top two ideas from the gallery to a ‘Dragons' Den’ style pitch. The top two ideas were:

  • Follow your heart - a tool to help staff follow best practice in the moment when they come across situations involving sex or intimacy. The tool includes a poster with ‘rules of thumb’ to help with decision making and scenarios to show how the rules of thumb can work in practice.
  • Lifting the lid on intimacy and sex in care homes, a workshop in a box - a pack for care homes with everything they need to run their own session to help them embed and create a new internal culture around sex and intimacy.

Dragons' Den pitch during Innovation sprint

Pitching the top two ideas from the gallery to a panel of experts

We presented these ideas to; Michael Dent, our Director of Fundraising, Helen Quinn, our Knowledge Officer for Legal and Welfare Rights, Angela Clayton Turner, a volunteer from our Research Network who cared for her husband, Joanne Howcroft, Dementia Lead for Service Improvement from BUPA, and Rebecca Jarvis, Programme Director at the South London Health Innovation Network.

Both solutions were positively reviewed by our panel and we are planning how they will be taken forward to the experiment stage.

Panel of experts in Dragons' Den pitch

Our panel of experts (L-R) - Rebecca, Helen, Michael, Joanne and Angela

4. Experiment

During this final stage, we will test our solution over a short period to see if it works in the real world.

Our goal is to have our solution adopted and championed by care homes. Ultimately, we want to enhance the well-being of care home residents living with dementia.

Watch this space as we test our solutions and share our findings.

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