Does Dementia Change the Ability of a Spouse to Consent to Sex?

Update April 23, 2015: Henry Rayhons has been found innocent after 3 days of jury deliberations.

A court in Des Moines, Iowa is considering the case of senior citizen Henry Rayhons, accused of third-degree sexual abuse of his wife Donna Lou. One of the questions the court will have to decide is Donna Lou’s ability to consent….she was a previously consenting spouse now suffering from dementia…could she no longer say yes to sex?

The couple happily married 7 years ago when they were both widowed, 70-year-old seniors. They had met in the choir of their church; Donna Lou was retired and Henry was an active member of the Iowa House of Representatives.

Three years later Donna Lou began battling Alzheimers Disease and dementia, and was moved into a nursing home in March 2014 based on a decision made by her daughters. Henry and Donna Lou’s two grown daughters argued over her care in the nursing home. In May 2014, Donna Lou’s daughters had a meeting with the nursing home staff and jointly concluded that Donna Lou was no longer able to consent to having sex; Henry was informed of this by the nursing home staff.

On May 23, 2014 – a week after being informed of Donna Lou’s condition & the care plan, and still serving as a member of the Iowa House of Representatives – Henry visited Donna Lou in the nursing home and drew the privacy curtain around her bed. Her roommate later informed staff that she heard noises she took to mean that Henry was having sex with Donna Lou, and Henry has admitted to having “sexual contact” with his wife that night.

The courts approved a subsequent application from her daughter to become her temporary guardians. Donna Lou died a few months later in August, 2014 and Henry was charged with sexual abuse a week later.

Expert clinical psychologist Elizabeth Edgerly (Chief Program Officer for the Alzheimer’s Association), who often lectures on Alzheimer’s Disease and sexuality, has said that patients can vary from one day to another and physical closeness is reassuring for many people, making determining capacity challenging. “For most people with dementia, even long into the disease, they take comfort in being with people who love them…Is the person capable of saying ‘no’ if they don’t want to do something?

For more details, consult the full articles by AP author Catherine Lucey  here  and Washing Post author Sarah Kaplan here

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Anita Hamilton

50+ World editor & baby boomer writer Anita Hamilton has always been interested in the "real people" stories behind the characters that create and inhabit the world of music, books, movies, television shows, current events, history, etc. A lifelong love of research (ok, nosiness) and writing, combined with a loving and supportive family complete with 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.

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