Healthy Living

Intimacy and Parkinson's: The Needs of Caregivers

Intimacy and Parkinson's: The Needs of Caregivers

Loss of intimacy or sex can have a devastating impact on couples who are living with Parkinson’s. Whether it is the patient with Parkinson’s disease or caregiver for someone with the disease, the condition does affect a couple's sex life physically as well as emotionally.

There are frustrations, self-esteem issues, difficulty interacting with other people, and unhappiness. These issues can make it hard for couples to remain close and together.

Some couples realize that this is their new way of life – the loss of sexual activity – and they accept the consequences just fine. However, others won’t allow Parkinson’s to stand in the way of their sex life. As partners in everything including sex, the loss of closeness is distressing. The caregiver, as well as the one with Parkinson’s disease, have their own feelings and needs for intimacy. Caregivers often come to realize that they need to cope with this illness, and that their partner may be incapable of having sex. A sense of loss builds between the couple, and this can contribute to a relationship's breakup or loss of love.

Why is it difficult to have sex if you suffer from Parkinson’s?

Researchers believe that the difficulties with sex happen because something disrupts the sexual responses. Sexual problems start with movement problems, depression, and fatigue. The nervous system drives the physical ability to have sex, and if you have a neurological condition like Parkinson’s you can expect to experience problems with sexual function. You don’t like it, but it happens.

  • Movement problems includes stiffness, slowness of movement and rigidity. These symptoms often affect sexual activity. Discuss your issues with your specialist. They may make changes in your medication, give you something to help, and give you advice on different sex positions to make it easier.
  • Fatigue is a symptom of Parkinson’s, and there are medications like amantadine that can help improve sexual function. If you are tired at night, try having sex during the times when you are more energetic.
  • Bowel and bladder problems can hinder sex. Feelings of incontinence during sexual activity can be embarrassing. Worry about incontinence can affect your self-esteem and does change the way you may act during sex. Empty your bladder before sex, use an enema or an anal plug, and ask your doctor about drug treatments.
  • Medications can have side effects that stop sexual activity. Don’t stop taking your medications but do speak to your medical professional about the problems.
  • For some people, dopamine agonists cause side effects like impulsive and compulsive behaviors. Hypersexuality is the impulsive and compulsive behavior where thoughts are focused on sex. If a person with Parkinson’s experiences these side effects, sexual impulses become more intense. One with Parkinson’s disease acts inappropriately towards people other than their partner. Sexual advances towards other people can be very distressing. Some couples enjoy the intense sex and don’t realize that there is a problem. If sexual behavior changes towards a partner or anyone else, discuss the issues with a healthcare provider quickly.
  • Couples often experience a lowered sex drive. Low sex drive relates to the emotional and psychological impact of a Parkinson’s diagnoses rather than a direct result of the condition.
  • Depression is common for someone with Parkinson’s. Depression lowers desire for sex or any intimate contact. You can get treatment from your healthcare professional to treat mood disorders or the depression that cause sex to be complicated.

Read on to learn some ways to improve your sex life if you are a couple affected by Parkinson's disease.