An epidemic is sweeping the nation, affecting seniors at an alarming rate. Yet conversation about this epidemic remains conspicuously silent between seniors and their families, and even in the doctor’s office.
Why? It has to do with sex.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are increasing in the senior population. Incidence of syphilis among seniors has risen more than 50 percent since 2007, and chlamydia more than 30 percent.
Statistically, we’re living longer, in better health. Erectile dysfunction drugs and hormone therapies make it possible for seniors to remain sexually active. Higher rates of divorce in older age means there are more single seniors.
Baby boomers came of age during a time when open sexual attitudes were common, and when condom use and sexual education were not. Dispelling myths and misconceptions about sex and STDs could be the key to reducing STD transmission in seniors.
Myth: Since pregnancy isn’t an issue, I don’t need to use protection.
Truth: Condoms, well-known as a form of contraception, can reduce the risk of STD transmission.
Many seniors also don’t know that there is now a medication that can protect against Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) transmission. Pre-exposure Prophylaxis is a term that refers to the use of a single pill, taken daily, which can decrease the chance of HIV transmission by more than 90 percent.
Myth: I’m too old to get tested.
Truth: Anyone who engages in unprotected sex should be tested for STDs. In fact, seniors are more susceptible to developing an STD because they often have more vulnerable immune systems and are likely to have other health problems that make them prone to infection.
The vast majority of those who are infected with the Hepatitis C virus are baby boomers. Anyone from this generation should be screened. It is also recommended that everyone be screened for HIV at least once, and more often if they are sexually active.
It’s so important that seniors get tested that Medicare began offering free STD screenings and counseling sessions. Between 2011 and 2012, 2.2 million seniors received STD screenings through Medicare.
Myth: Since STDs are so common, they probably aren’t that serious.
Truth: STDs can have serious health consequences, especially for seniors. STDs often have no symptoms or are mistaken for aches and pains associated with aging, so they frequently go untreated in elderly populations. While the body is busy fighting an STD, other infections can take root and make a senior even sicker. If the patient has other conditions such as heart disease, liver damage or diabetes, further complications can develop.
Please be open with your primary care provider about your symptoms and sexual history if you have any reason to believe you have an STD, so that you can get the treatment you need and protect your partner.
Seniors can access a number of resources online to learn more about STDs, including aarp.org, cdc.gov and kp.org; visit medicare.gov to find information on Medicare’s screening coverage.