GLOBE AND MAIL
Wednesday, September 5, 2001
Jonathan Bjerg Moller
Porn calms Danish seniors, staff say
Caregivers in Copenhagen have found that pornography and prostitutes have a greater calming effect on their elderly patients than traditional medical treatment such as drug therapy.
Staff at the Thorupgaarden nursing home in the Danish capital have been broadcasting pornography on the building's internal videochannel every Saturday night for several years. And if videos and dirty magazines don't relieve the tension, residents can ask the staff to order a prostitute for them.
The caregivers have told Danish media that pornography is healthier, cheaper and easier to use than medicine, Lars Elmsted Petersen, a spokesman for the Danish seniors' lobby group Aeldresagen, said.
Earlier this year, the Danish government released a report stating that sexuality is an integral part of life for the elderly and the disabled. It recommended that caregivers help elderly residents satisfy their sexual needs. Gerontology experts in that country agree with the practice.
The issue of sex and seniors is often overlooked at nursing homes, said Maj-Britt Auning, a department head at the 115-resident Thorupgaarden facility.
Normally, "if residents show their sexuality, they are labelled as 'old perverts,'" said Ms. Auning, who has been working with elderly and senile patients for 20 years. "It's time that we show the elderly some respect and take their needs seriously, including the sexual ones."
She said both men and women appreciate the sexually explicit videos.
Porn may be better than drugs for Danish seniors
Ms. Auning said there has been just one complaint since the program began three years ago.
"It's legal here [in Denmark] for us to contact a prostitute on their behalf," said Ms. Auning. Only two residents regularly use sex workers, she said, but others could avail themselves of the service without staff knowledge.
As word spreads about Denmark's success, the concept is attracting attention in Canada's geriatric-care community, even if professionals here are unwilling to endorse the approach.
"Oh my God! That's interesting," said Nancy Klossner, an administrative director of care at Castleview Care Centre in Castlegar, B.C. She added that sexual relationships carry on in her facility without the help of staff.
"A number of years ago there was a couple that got together and they were often caught in various places."
But she said she has never heard of anyone giving residents pornography or helping them find a prostitute. Senior sexuality is an issue not often addressed because caregivers want to respect the residents' privacy, Ms. Klossner said.
Some Canadian caregivers are less than eager to take on the job of providing sexual outlets for nursing-home patients.
"Oh, get outta here," said Jeff Merry, a registered nurse at the 50-resident Annapolis Royal Nursing Home in Nova Scotia, when told about the Danish program. "I don't know how well that would go over here."
Mr. Merry, who has been working with seniors for six years, said if residents are capable and want to talk to staff, then staff members do listen. He said situations of senior sexuality are rare.
And even in Denmark, the unconventional approach has raised some unusual ethical concerns.
"You have to ask the question: 'Do we want to know about our parents' sexuality?'" said Ms. Auning. "Maybe there are some [children] that do. But if my mother has to go to a seniors' home and she has those needs, then I want them to take care of her. I don't want to know about her intimate sexual needs."
Created: September 5, 2001
Last modified: September 5, 2001
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