What to Do If Your Client Exhibits Sexually Inappropriate Behaviour


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Recent revelations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood and beyond have focused national attention on issues like inappropriate touching and sexual bullying. As a senior care professional, you may encounter clients who engage in sexually inappropriate behaviour. What should you do if you feel a client crossed the line in this respect? Let’s look at the issue in more detail.

Defining “sexually inappropriate”

Not all sexual behaviour by seniors may be inappropriate. Many couples enjoy a vibrant sex life well into older age. However, if a client directs sexual behaviour at you verbally or physically, this crosses the boundary into inappropriate behaviour. Always report such behaviour to your local office.

Understanding the causes of sexually inappropriate behaviours

Inappropriate sexual behaviour within older adult populations can be a possible symptom of cognitive decline, according to HelpforAlzheimersFamilies.com. Alzheimer's or related forms of dementia can cause dysfunction in regions of the brain that govern impulse control and rational thinking. This is important to remember because it means the individual cannot necessarily control or recognize when they’re engaging in inappropriate behaviour.

Clients with cognitive decline also may engage in sexually inappropriate behaviour as a means to convey a legitimate non-sexual need. For example, a man with dementia may masturbate not for sexual gratification but because he has a urinary tract infection and cannot communicate the pain he is experiencing. Or, a woman may take her clothes off not for sexual reasons but because she is unable to express that she is too warm, according to HelpforAlzheimersFamilies.com.
Other medical conditions, such as delirium, also can cause a client to exhibit sexually inappropriate behaviour, according to a report published in Canadian Family Physician. That said, you should not try to diagnose an underlying medical reason for a client’s suddenly wandering hands. Instead, you should refer the behaviour to your local office. Your manager can contact the family to advise them of the situation and encourage them to have the older relative examined by a doctor to diagnose the cause of such behaviour.

How to minimize inappropriate client behaviours

If it has been determined that a client engages in sexually inappropriate behaviours due to a chronic medical condition like dementia, then you can take steps to provide compassionate care while knowing the client is not trying to harass or abuse you. A few approaches to try are below. However, if you feel uncomfortable continuing to work with a client who may exhibit these behaviours, talk to your local office about the situation and ask to be removed from the assignment if necessary.

1. Determine the immediate rationale behind the behaviour. For example, if a client appears to be touching him- or herself in your presence, ask if he or she needs to go to the bathroom. If a person begins disrobing in public, ask if they are warm and assist them to remove only the appropriate layers of clothing. In general, you may try to relate the inappropriate action to a basic physiological need (such as urinating, defecating, eating or sleeping) and see if that halts the behaviour.

2. Redirect to another activity. This dementia care technique can work for a number of behavioural symptoms, including sexual behaviours. Ignore the sexually inappropriate behaviour and ask the client an unrelated question that requires mental focus to solve, such as, "Should we have sandwiches or leftovers for lunch?" By refocusing their attention on something else, clients might forget about whatever they were doing that was inappropriate.

3. Take a matter-of-fact approach. CAREGiversSM often must tap their professionalism to perform tasks that could be embarrassing, such as helping a client to the toilet, showering or changing adult briefs. Many CAREGivers rely on a matter-of-fact attitude to help clients retain their dignity in these situations, and you can use the same approach to cope with sexually inappropriate behaviours when you know they're caused by a disease process.
For example, if a client attempts to disrobe in public, approach the situation as if it is nothing unusual and calmly try to stop the behaviour while re-directing the client's attention.

4. Practice empathy Try to imagine how you might feel if it were your mother or father behaving the way the client is. How would you like a care professional to respond to him or her? Now try to imagine yourself in older age behaving inappropriately—and having no control over it. How would you wish a senior care professional to treat you? A compassionate, empathetic approach in these circumstances can go a long way.

5. Report to your local office Coping with sexually inappropriate behaviour by a client, even when you know it's not aimed at you, may be uncomfortable for you and other CAREGivers. You should always feel free to discuss your concerns with your manager.

Dealing with inappropriate behaviour can be one of the more difficult aspects of professional caregiving. But by employing a few key strategies and relying on your local office staff for support, you can successfully navigate the situation with dignity and professionalism for everyone involved.





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