Better provider policies needed in wake of historic Alzheimer's sex case, experts say

A 78-year-old retired lawmaker on Wednesday was found not guilty of sexual abuse of his Alzheimer's-afflicted wife. The Iowa case attracted nationwide attention and has been watched closely by many long-term care professionals.

Indeed, various experts told the Washington Post the case points to the need for nursing homes to have clearer policies on sex and intimacy.

If convicted, Henry Rayhons could have spent up to 10 years in prison. As McKnight's previously reported, his wife, Donna Lou Young, died in a nursing home last August. Rayhons, a former Iowa state representative, was charged shortly after her death.

The verdict may have hinged on the testimony of an 86-year-old roommate of Young's, who first reported feeling uncomfortable by sounds coming from behind a curtain in their room. In court, however, the roommate said she wasn't sure whether the sounds were of a sexual nature. Rayhons testified that the sounds were probably him making Young more comfortable in her bed.

Minneapolis-based attorney Mark Kosieradzki told the Washington Post the jury's verdict did not show conclusively on what basis Rayhons was found not guilty. Theories hinge on whether the jury decided Young was able to consent, or that the prosecutors did not have enough evidence to prove Rayhons had committed a crime.

The issue of consent among the mentally impaired remains wide open for debate, observers told the Washington Post. For example, while dementia can severely impair a person's cognitive ability, the desire for physical contact may be unaffected, the article noted.