Sex and Dementia: Trial sparks debate on consent - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Sex and Dementia: Trial sparks debate on consent

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The trial of former Iowa state lawmaker Henry Rayhons has sparked a nationwide debate about when adults with dementia can consent to sex.

Rayhons was accused of sexually assaulting his wife while she was in a nursing home, diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Wednesday, he was found not guilty. Prosecutors had two tasks -- to prove the jury that Mrs. Rayhons could not legally consent to sex due to her mental state, and that sex occurred.

Many in the elder care industry watched the trial closely. Among them, Lisa Gates, the executive director of Friendship Village in Waterloo. She said they worried the trial could set a troubling legal precedent for nursing homes. It's a situation many Iowans may encounter in some way or another. According to 2013 census data, 15% of all residents in the state are over 65 years old. In coming years, that means more will be heading to care facilities like Friendship Village.

"To have one rule to cover everything is impossible," she said. "It's just unworkable. It takes away the human part of our residents."

She said the facility guidelines do allow sex between consenting adults.

"First and foremost we always try to remember to individual rights of the residents," she said.

However, many complications of aging can alter the situation, including Alzheimer's and dementia. In that case, Gates said they address the issue as a team -- including nurses, doctors and family members. She believes that decision of whether consent can be given should be left with the facilities, residents and families -- those closest to the situation.

She said with everyone on the same page, they give residents their maximum freedoms, while still keeping a vulnerable population safe.

"As caregivers we have a duty to protect those that we are given the responsibility to care for," Gates said.

She said there are no black and white call though -- especially when dementia is involved, and a person's mental faculties can fluctuate day to day.

"One day they seem to be fully aware of their surroundings, and then something clicks and there's that diminished capacity," Gates said.

Still, protecting someone who is too far gone to consent is paramount. And Gates said if they believe an assault did occur, they will contact authorities.

Still, they hope to prevent that through clear communication with family and staff.

"It's a tough thing to do, to say to somebody who comes in, 'You can't do that, it's harmful,' but there's been a lot of preparation hopefully before that time," she said.

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