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The case of a 78-year-old retired lawmaker who was prosecuted for alleged sexual abuse of his Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife highlights a need for nursing homes to have clearer policies on sex and intimacy, experts say.

The Iowa case attracted nationwide attention and was watched closely by long-term care professionals, Alzheimer’s officials and patient advocates across the country.

One Penn State University professor called it “the last great frontier of questions about capacity and dementia.”

A national news outlet thousands of miles from the Iowa courtroom referred to the case as an “unprecedented examination of a little-explored aspect of consent.” 

If he had been convicted, Henry Rayhons could have spent up to 10 years in prison. 

Minneapolis-based attorney Mark Kosieradzki told the Washington Post that the jury’s verdict did not show conclusively on what basis Rayhons was found not guilty.

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

Rayhons’ wife, Donna Lou Young, died in a nursing home last August. Rayhons, a former Iowa state representative, was charged shortly after her death. 

A doctor had told him his wife was in no condition to have sex because her Alzheimer’s had progressed so far that she was no longer able to give coherent consent.

The verdict may have hinged on the testimony of an 86-year-old roommate of Young’s, who first reported feeling uncomfortable about 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.