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We all need a sense of closeness in our lives. We need intimacy, like a caring touch, someone who understands and a sense of comfort in our relationships.

Sex, including physical closeness, intimate touch and kissing, is another very natural, human need.

Dementia can change the way you feel about sex and intimacy. It can change what you need and want, and how strongly you feel about it. It can also change the way you behave.

You or your partner might find that:

  • you find it more difficult to support and care for your loved ones
  • you need more or less sex or intimacy
  • you find it physically difficult to have sex
  • you behave sexually in inappropriate situations — for example, you might make sexual comments to someone who isn’t your partner.

These changes can be very upsetting. It might be hard to do, but talking with your loved ones or discussing it with a professional can help.

Supporting intimacy and sex

If you live with dementia, you can still enjoy loving relationships, affection and sex.

However, you might feel frustrated or lose confidence, especially if there are some things you can’t do any more. It can affect the way you feel about yourself, your partner, and intimacy and sex.

It can be tough to open up, but there are a few things you can do:

  • talk about any sexual changes you’re experiencing. It can help reduce confusion, hurt, blame or guilt
  • talk about both of your needs and expectations, now and in the future
  • find new kinds of sex and intimacy that work for you both. This might include sexual touch, cuddling or sharing special memories.
  • talk to your doctor or counsellor if these changes are causing either of you emotional or physical distress.

Depression, and some medications, can reduce your interest in sex. If you think this is happening, talk to your doctor about your options.

For partners of someone living with dementia

If your partner has dementia, you might find the condition causes their relationship with you to change. They might become sexually demanding, sometimes at unexpected times or in inappropriate places. Or they might lose interest in a physical relationship.

Your sexual interest in your partner might also change, particularly as your caring role increases. You might want to reduce your sexual engagement with them, or you might not want sex with them at all. That’s understandable, and common.

What you can do

If your partner is behaving inappropriately, or you feel uncomfortable, there are a few things you can try:

  • Gently discourage the behaviour. Use a calm, neutral tone to avoid shaming them.
  • Consider why the behaviour might be happening. Are they bored or distressed? Do they need to go to the toilet?
  • If you can, redirect them to another activity.
  • Provide opportunities for sexual expression in private. You can do this together or by yourselves.

For more on inappropriate sexual behaviour, see our Disinhibition page.

You can also support your partner’s needs in non-sexual ways:

  • Find ways to include physical touch in your day-to-day routine, including holding hands, hugging or massage.
  • Help them feel valued with activities they enjoy. This could include exercise, listening to favourite music and reminiscing.

Looking after yourself

Whatever situation you’re in, you might feel bewildered, hurt or guilty. This is very normal, but there are some things you can do to look after yourself:

  • Speak to a friend, family member, doctor or counsellor if you’re struggling. Or consider joining a support group. This can help you feel that you’re not on your own.
  • If your partner isn’t interested in sex, you might want to find ways to meet your own needs without involving them.

It’s okay to take care of your own health and happiness. If you're struggling as someone who cares for a person with dementia, contact the free, confidential National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500, any time of the day or night, for information, advice and support.

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Last updated
3 January 2024