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Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Older Adults

It may strike some as surprising, but the rates of sexually transmitted disease (STD) in older adults are rising. Older people who are sexually active may be at risk for diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydial infection, genital herpes, hepatitis B, genital warts, and trichomoniasis.

Almost anyone who is sexually active is also at risk of being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that the number of new HIV infections is actually growing faster in individuals over 50 than in people 40 years and
under, and HIV may just be the tip of the iceberg.

It is essential that older adults and their caregivers get educated about the risks of STDs. Age does not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases.

Factors Contributing to Increase in STDs in Older Adults:

New trends in medicine have given men medications for erectile dysfunction such as Viagra and Cialis. These drugs have enabled more men to engage in sexual activity throughout their older years. According to the CDC, there were more than six new cases of STDs per 10,000 men over 40 in 2008 - up almost
50 percent since 1996.

America is also experiencing a high mid-life divorce rate. Consequently, older adults are looking for dates online, which lowers the chance that they know the background and sexual history of people they are dating. Older adults are less likely to perceive themselves at risk.

Many current older adults may have missed the boat when it came to safe sex education. Safe sex and STD prevention education became prevalent in the 1980s when HIV/AIDS was discovered. During that time period, many current older adults were married and middle aged and missed the education that was
then directed to youth.

The times are truly different for older adults. Women are postmenopausal, so they do not worry about getting pregnant. Women also outnumber men, so the women are more eager to please their partners. That said, men of this generation typically call the shots; for example, men do not prefer wearing condoms.

Concerns for Older Adults with STDs

Older adults are more likely receive diagnosis of a STD when it is too late and then aren't able to benefit from the medications available for treatment of the diseases in the early stages. Many older adults are embarrassed to ask to be tested for STDs.

Many other STDs do not have symptoms, so many people don't realize they are infected until serious and possibly permanent damage has occurred.

This is commonly the case with HIV/AIDS in older adults. Doctors may also misdiagnose early symptoms of HIV infection - fatigue, weakness, and memory changes - as normal signs of aging. The patients themselves may also disregard these symptoms for the same reason.

Older adults who have been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS have higher death rates possibly because of complicating problems like heart disease, diabetes, or an aging immune system.

Conversations About STDs:

Older adults would be wise to speak with their primary-care physicians to start a dialogue about STDs. However, some doctors avoid the topic because they feel uncomfortable discussing it with these patients. They might also make the mistake in thinking that older people aren't having sexual relations.

Problems such as these make it imperative for caregivers and the younger generations to teach their elders about the dangers of STDs until comprehensive sex-ed measures are established for older people.

A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.