Are 73-year old woman’s sexual comments harassment or sign of dementia?

A reader contacted me recently to ask for advice dealing with an elderly neighbor who constantly makes sexually inappropriate comments.  It seems the 73-year old can’t help talking about the reader’s buttocks  when they meet or talk on the phone about neighborhood business.


Common symptoms of dementia include obsessive behavior and inappropriate comments about sex. Photo by Thomas Fahy

Before you label the neighbor a dirty old man, you should know that the elderly neighbor is a married woman  with adult grandchildren. According to the reader, during the many years the two have lived near each other earlier conversations were normal and friendly. But in recent years  the reader has been subjected to such comments as:

“Girl, you  have a cute booty,”

“Baby got back. ”

“Shake it, Shake it,” and

“You have a nice firm butt.”

“Anything that a dirty old man has said to me, she has,” the reader wrote, adding that she caught the woman who is old enough to be her mother staring at her behind.  The elderly woman has even questioned other women about their  sex lives, leaving everyone present red-faced or opened mouthed.

I don’t know about you but this reminds me of the grandmother in Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor.

If the neighbor were a man the female reader said she would threaten to tell his wife. However, because the neighbor is a woman with whom she has social ties  the reader doesn’t know how to respond to the senior’s inappropriate comments in a way that “keeps the peace.”

It’s possible that the neighbor knows exactly what she is doing and is expressing  some pent-up desire for women.  But I decided to ask a doctor who has specialized in geriatric medicine what she thinks. The physician explained that the repeated and unexpected comments about sex are indicative of obsessive behavior and that the elderly neighbor could be showing signs of dementia.

While many people associate dementia with memory loss, confusion and  irritability,  Advances in Psychiatric Treatment says inappropriate sexual behavior is a common symptom of dementia and occurs with near equal frequency in men and women.

DementiaGuide said some  common signs of dementia can include the following inappropriate behavior:

  • Is too interested in sexual activity
  • Makes inappropriate remarks in public places
  • Says inappropriate things to people they know
  • Makes unwanted advances to people they know
  • Says inappropriate things to strangers
  • Makes unwanted advances to strangers (e.g. grabs, or attempts to fondle)

Dementia researchers  say to get past the shock of such inappropriate behavior by an older person, you first need to get past how you may feel about any older person having sex.  Ignoring the issue, however, isn’t wise if it is becoming more aggressive. I think that’s especially true if the senior person spends time with young children, teens or other disabled or elderly people.

Care givers who notice such behavior should get their senior loved one tested for dementia, especially if certain comments and actions are out of character for your senior loved one.  If their behavior is the result of dementia, researchers say it is important to manage the environment and to educate and discuss the issues with their care givers and families. Studies show that behavioral  adjustments are helpful.  However researchers say no specific behavioral intervention has been shown to be effective in this area.

As for the neighbor, if I were in that situation the next time the neighbor makes an inappropriate sexual comment I’d calmly but firmly tell her that it makes me uncomfortable and ask her to stop. If she continues with the behavior, given what the physician told me, I’d ask if she realizes what she’s doing and recommend she see a doctor if she claims not to. If those attempts to stop the behavior don’t work, I’d keep my distance.


I'm a working wife and mom who takes care of an aging parent. Only I began doing it full-time, in my home, when I was in my mid-thirties, single and about to make a career change. Thirteen years later, mom is still living with me and I expect it to be that way until one of us leaves this earth. It hasn't always been easy managing her care. (I've helped my mother recover from surgery, and a major injury that required a nursing home stay, as well as the death of my younger brother after a long illness.) But caring for her has been worth it because I know that my assistance means she enjoys a better quality of life as she ages. I hope the experiences and information that I share will help you manage,with grace, the changes that take place in your life as you assume the responsibility of being your parent's caregiver. If you have a question you think I can answer, please contact me at

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One comment on “Are 73-year old woman’s sexual comments harassment or sign of dementia?
  1. Charlene says:

    This article definitely had me surprised. I think it would be better to keep your distance when all else fails!