Q. My husband has Alzheimer’s disease. When I took him to a dental appointment recently, he tried to expose himself to another lady in the waiting room. Why has he started acting this way, and what can be done to stop it?
A. Although such behavior is rare, a spouse with advanced Alzheimer’s may engage in public displays of sexuality that can be distressing and embarrassing. Some individuals fondle themselves, try to undress, or make obscene comments or sexual advances toward strangers.
This type of behavior occurs because your spouse does not know where he is or that these actions are socially inappropriate; they are symptoms of the disease, not character flaws or deliberate attempts to antagonize or shock you. Changes in the brain are influencing behavior and can lead to a loss of inhibitions, heightened physical desire, or an inability to correctly interpret situations.
The best way to handle these incidents is to remain calm and gently redirect your husband. Explain that this is not the place to engage in these behaviors, and try to distract him with a different activity or gently accompany him to another room. You may need to explain to others that he has an illness that has affected his behavior.
Try to identify what else might be causing these behaviors so that you can respond appropriately. Attempting to remove articles of clothing, for instance, may indicate that your husband is too warm or needs to use the restroom. Sometimes seemingly sexual behavior is simply an indication that a person needs physical affection, such as a hug or kiss.