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Iowa Jury’s Acquittal of Husband Charged with Sexual Abuse of Wife Suffering from Alzheimer’s Raises Questions about Consent of Nursing Home Residents in New York and Nationwide

The mental capacity of nursing home residents varies widely, both from patient to patient and even within the same patient at different times over a given period. A jury in Iowa was recently called upon to determine whether one resident – a sufferer of Alzheimer’s disease – had the mental ability to consent to sexual relations with her husband, if they did in fact have sexual relations as alleged by the State.

The case drew national attention because of its focus on the issue of an Alzheimer’s patient’s ability to consent to sexual relations with a spouse, an issue that is likely to be of increasing importance as the number of sufferers of the disease increases. (According to the data from the National Institute on Aging, approximately five million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s.)

The Facts as Alleged by the State

The defendant was a 78-year-old retired farmer and former state legislator. He and the alleged victim, both of whom had been widowed, married in 2007. There was some dispute at trial regarding whether he and his wife’s children from a previous marriage were in agreement as to whether to place her in the Concord Care Center nursing home after she developed Alzheimer’s disease and what involvement, if any, the children had in the prosecution of the defendant after the wife’s 86-year-old roommate complained about “noises” the couple were making during a visit sometime after the wife’s doctor had allegedly opined – in response to concerns by one of the wife’s children – that she lacked the cognitive capacity to consent to any sexual activity. The wife passed away in August 2014, prior to the defendant’s arrest on sexual abuse charges.

The Defendant’s Testimony, Other Evidence, and the Verdict

The defendant testified on his own behalf at the trial, stating that his wife had continued to initiate sexual contact after she was placed in the nursing home but that they had not engaged in intercourse on the date in question. The roommate who had initially complained about the couple testified that she was uncertain whether the noises she had heard had been sexual. Other evidence included the results of a rape kit, which did not show signs of injury or intercourse, and testimony by a crime lab technician to the effect that the sperm matching the defendant’s was on the wife’s bedding but that he could not say how old the stains were. After considering this and other evidence, the jury found the defendant not guilty of the charges against him.

Although this was a complicated criminal trial, several of these issues will likely arise in future civil nursing home litigation, including the responsibility that a nursing home has to determine whether an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient can consent to sexual relations and what duty it has to protect him or her if it is determined that no such capacity to consent exists.

If You Are Concerned About a Loved One’s Care in a New York Nursing Home

If you suspect that a family member has been neglected or abused while a resident in a nursing home, you probably have a lot of questions about what action you can take to compensate your loved one for his or her injuries and how to do your part to prevent future abuse of other vulnerable residents. It is important that you speak to a knowledgeable attorney about the case before too much time elapses, or else the claim can become barred by the statute of limitations. The nursing home injury attorneys at Duffy & Duffy can be reached at (516) 394-4200. We will be glad to schedule an appointment to address your concerns. We represent clients throughout Long Island, Kings County, and Suffolk County.

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