Intimacy refers to a close feeling shared between 2 people, based on knowledge of and familiarity with the other person. It includes emotional, social (based on shared experiences), and physical intimacy (eg, touching, cuddling, sexual intercourse).
The desire for intimacy does not decrease with age, and there is no age at which intimacy, including physical intimacy, is inappropriate. However, the disorders and emotional changes that often occur with aging can interfere with developing and maintaining an intimate relationship. Aging can also change the way intimacy is expressed.
Intimacy, particularly physical intimacy, may be lost because of the following:
Nonetheless, many elderly people continue to have a healthy sexual relationship. Intimacy, particularly physical intimacy, can help prevent depression and improve self-esteem and physical health. If elderly people have a new sex partner, they should practice safe sex. Acquiring sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, is a risk, regardless of age.
Many elderly people, especially those that live alone, find satisfaction and a sense of companionship in interactions with a pet. Caring for a pet can give people a sense of purpose and connectedness.
Last full review/revision September 2009 by Barbara J. Berkman, DSW/PhD; Daniel B. Kaplan, MSW