The Resident and the Spouse and the Lover and the Ethicist: Considerations and Challenges in Nursing Home Romance

J Clin Ethics. Spring 2021;32(1):77-82.


The level of impairment shown by the 1.3 million residents of nursing homes in the United States varies significantly, and this raises considerable challenges for how to address the sexual and romantic interests and needs of these diverse individuals. Unfortunately, bright-line rules and a one-size-fits-all approach are often taken when addressing these challenges. This article proposes a novel taxonomy for classifying the potential sexual and romantic relationships of cognitively impaired nursing home residents that includes relationships between unmarried residents, relationships between residents and their own spouses, and adulterous relationships. We explore the ethical and logistical challenges distinctive to each category of relationship.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ethicists*
  • Ethics, Institutional*
  • Female
  • Homes for the Aged / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Nursing Homes / organization & administration*
  • Sexual Behavior / ethics*
  • Spouses*
  • United States