Senior Strippergate: What We Can Learn From the East Neck Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Story

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The salacious story about a nursing home hiring a stripper made national news this week, earning coverage by not only the major networks but even TMZ and The Howard Stern Show (click to view coverage) watch?v=4_hiRw-NKFs .  Many are outraged at the reports that a patient with “partial dementia” was stuffing dollar bills down a dancer’s pants. Even the most liberal-minded senior service professionals may find themselves questioning the wisdom of a nursing home hiring an exotic dancer for resident entertainment, even if it was allegedly requested by the Resident Council. But regardless of your initial opinion, this story does raise some interesting points to consider.

First, it reminds us that older adults, even those in nursing homes, are still sexual beings. Many seniors are still sexually active. Senior living communities often accommodate spouses and partners wanting to be intimate, whether both are residents or one is visiting the other. Also, residents sometimes meet at nursing homes and assisted living communities and develop relationships. Sometimes they are romantic, become serious and lead to loving partnerships. Occasionally they are simply about romantic or sexual gratification.

It is certainly understandable that the son of the woman with dementia is shocked that his mother participated in this activity. And who can blame him? Nobody wants to think of their parents as sexual. But was she able to give consent to this activity? The news is reporting that this resident has “partial dementia.” With many dementia diagnoses, consent is not always a black and white issue—there can be gray area. Ability to consent to any activity can be moment to moment. If this resident wanted to attend the event and knew in the moment what she was agreeing to participate in—would it have been fair for her to be excluded if the activity was open to the rest of the residents in the facility?

The nursing home staff would have been foolish not to expect some backlash for such a controversial activity. But should they be applauded for upholding the self-determination of their adult Resident Council who allegedly requested this unorthodox event, despite the fact that they were likely to be criticized?

Does this story foreshadow the future landscape of senior living? More Baby Boomers are going to be moving into senior living in the next two decades. Perhaps this story can remind us that therapeutic programs for older adults need to change with the times and the new generations of older adults needing our services. While maybe a stripper in a healthcare facility is not the best idea, perhaps assessing and revitalizing the offerings in some activities departments might be warranted.