Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Intimate relationships in residential aged care: what factors influence staff decisions to intervene?
  1. Linda McAuliffe1,
  2. Deirdre Fetherstonhaugh1,
  3. Maggie Syme2
  1. 1 Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care (ACEBAC), La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2 Hebrew SeniorLife Marcus Institute for Aging Research, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Linda McAuliffe, Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care (ACEBAC), La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; l.mcauliffe{at}


Intimacy contributes to our well-being and extends into older age, despite cognitive or physical impairment. However, the ability to enjoy intimacy and express sexuality is often compromised—or even controlled—when one moves into residential aged care. The aim of this study was to identify what factors influence senior residential aged care staff when they make decisions regarding resident intimate relationships and sexual expression. The study used vignette methodology and a postal survey to explore reactions to a fictionalised case study of a couple—Norm and Carol—who develop a close, mutually satisfying relationship. Staff were first asked whether they would intervene in the relationship. Using an innovative approach, several variations to the case study were then presented to explore whether views about intervening changed according to varying contextual factors. Findings indicated that over 90% of respondents initially agreed that the relationship should continue, and only 10% indicated they would intervene. However, when the case study was varied, respondents indicated they were more likely to intervene, particularly if Norm was exhibiting distress in Carol’s presence (89%), but also if Norm was married and his wife was living in the community (40%). Other factors including level of cognitive impairment and family disapproval were also found to influence staff views. This study provides insight into how residential aged care staff make decisions regarding the intimacy and sexuality of older people living in residential aged care and how personal views and values likely guide practice in the absence of formal policies.

  • aged
  • dementia
  • policy

Data availability statement

No data are available.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Data availability statement

No data are available.

View Full Text


  • Contributors All authors meet the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) criteria for authorship, that is, (1) all authors have made substantial contributions to the conception and design of the study, or acquisition of data, or analysis or interpretation of data; (2) all authors were involved in drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and (3) all authors are in agreement with the content of the manuscript and have provided final approval of the version to be published. The content of the paper has not been published or submitted for publication elsewhere. LM is responsible for the overall content as guarantor and accepts full responsibility for the finished work and/or the conduct of the study, had access to the data, and controlled the decision to publish.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Other content recommended for you