Nation's eyes shift to trial where Alzheimer's and marital consent issues collide

One Penn State University professor calls it “the last great frontier of questions about capacity and dementia.” A national news outlet thousands of miles away refers to it as an “unprecedented examination of a little-explored aspect of consent.” It centers on the brief marriage of two people in their 70s, with one going on trial for having sexual relations with his wife after being told she suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Donna Lou Young died in a nursing home last August after a four-year battle with the disease, according to a Washington Post article on Tuesday. Her widower, Henry Rayhons, a former Iowa state representative, was charged a week after Young's death with having had sexual relations with her while she suffered from dementia.

Friends and family described the couple as happy and fun-loving during their two-year courtship. Young was reportedly diagnosed with Alzheimer's a few years after they were married. Later, Young's daughters placed their mother in Concord Care Center in Garner, IA, where a physician reportedly advised Rayhons the woman was not in a position to consent to sexual relations. Nonetheless, Rayhons allegedly admitted to police that he had “sexual contact” with her a short time later, according to the Post article.

What unfolds in the Iowa courtroom will be watched closely by long-term care professionals, who must be aware of Alzheimer's and sexuality issues on a daily basis, as well as numerous other professional and consumer advocates.