You may have given little thought to the possibility of your parent contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) later in life. The reality is, this is a very common occurrence in individuals over 60, and the numbers are staggering when it comes to STD contraction at this age.
The Centers for Disease Control tells us that:
- HIV infection is growing faster in individuals over 50 than in those under 40.
- As many as six new cases of STDs occur in every 10,000 men over the age of 40.
- This is an increase of as much as 50 percent since 1996.
- Caregivers should be informed of caring for clients with STDs. [i]
The reasons that common sexually transmitted diseases are increasing in seniors varies across the board, but one thing is for certain, caregivers need to be aware of its occurrence.
We will Cover in this Article
- Causes and Reasons for Common Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Seniors
- Care and Treatment for Sexually Transmitted Diseases
- Types of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
- Herpes Simplex Virus
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the Elderly: Issues
- Sexually Transmitted Infections and Older Adults: Recommendations
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Causes and Reasons for Common Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Seniors
There are multiple reasons [ii] that senior citizens are exposed to STDs:
- Poor education on sexually transmitted diseases
- Not knowing how STDs spread
- Education about STDs has largely focused on younger people
- Most seniors were married in the 80s and 90s when STDs were more common
Now, as seniors are single and ready to date again, many are finding themselves in a situation where they are having unprotected sex and contracting a realm of STDs. Here are some of the ways that senior dating poses risk of STDs in seniors:
- Drugs such as Viagra are helping seniors have an active sex life.
- Seniors are seeking out partners but not learning about their backgrounds.
- Internet dating has made it easier for seniors to find a partner as they age.
- Some seniors have an unwillingness to wear protection during sexual intercourse.
Often times, men take the upper hand in a senior relationship with a woman and forgo safe sex as a result. Woman want to please their partner and will abide by their wishes when it comes to having unprotected sex with them, increasing the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases in this age group.
As a caregiver, you need to be aware that your parent may be sexually active with a partner and having unprotected sex that puts them at risk for many types of sexually transmitted diseases.
Having the discussion with your parent may be difficult, but they may not be aware of the consequences of having unprotected sex when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases and need your help.
Care and Treatment for Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Seniors are not immune to contracting an STD, and many are having sex without considering the risks. They are not getting information on sexually transmitted diseases that are incurable or contracted orally from their caregiver or even their doctor.
Many believe that as a person ages they are no longer sexually active when this is simply not the case. As a result, common sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in the older generation. Doctors often feel uncomfortable talking to a senior about STDs and frequently misdiagnose their symptoms as signs of aging. [ii]
Medical professionals warn senior caregivers that they may confuse symptoms of STDs with symptoms of aging such as:
- Changes in memory
Testing of common sexually transmitted disease in seniors needs to occur especially if your parent is sexually active with a partner. Leaving this unaddressed can create a situation where your parent is passing the disease to other partners without warning.
The use of safe sex should be a priority for seniors and education on common sexually transmitted diseases needs to happen to help them understand the risks associated with STDs.
Types of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Seniors are at risk of contracting many of different types of STDs whether it be from oral sex or intercourse. Some of the more common sexually transmitted diseases in seniors can include:
- Herpes Simplex Virus
- Human Papillomavirus
Herpes Simplex Virus
This is an incurable sexually transmitted disease that once someone has it, they have it for life. Herpes is transmitted through sexual contact or as an oral sexual transmitted disease. [iii] [iv]
- Blisters or bumps on the face, mouth or genitals
- Burning, itching or redness on affected areas
- Painful lesions
It is most common in females but can be passed from partner to partner without warning or symptoms of the disease present.
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease in individuals of all ages and it occurs in both genders. [v] It is caused by bacteria and can be passed vaginally, anally, or orally.
Here are the symptoms of chlamydia in women:
- Pain while urinating
- Vaginal itching
- Abdominal pain
- Painful intercourse
Here are the symptoms of chlamydia in men:
- Swelling of the testicles
- Painful intercourse
A doctor can prescribe antibiotics to treat chlamydia, allowing symptoms to clear up in as little as two weeks.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial sexually transmitted disease that is most common in men, but it can be transmitted to women as well. [vi]
Gonorrhea can be passed orally, vaginally, or anally.
- Rash in the genital area
- Rash in the mouth, throat, or eyes
- Rash in the anus
- Pain in the joints
The disease is curable by a doctor but can be contracted again if proper protection during sex doesn’t occur.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be passed orally, anally, or vaginally. [vii] The disease manifests as sores on the mouth or genitals. It will move to the hands or feet with time and can develop into a later stage progression of no symptoms at all. If left untreated Chlamydia can affect the heart, brain, and nerves, causing blindness, deafness, dementia or even death.
Symptoms may appear without warning. Symptoms may not present for a long time so it’s easy to pass the bacteria from person to person without knowing it. According to the CDC cases of syphilis have doubled since 2005 and 2013.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Another common sexually transmitted disease in seniors is Human papilloma virus (HPV). [viii] According to the to the CDC at least 50 percent of people will experience HPV infection at some time in their life.
Symptoms of HPV include : academic
- Genital warts
- Warts that itch, bleed or spread
- Warts in the mouth or throat
Genital warts can cause cancer of the cervix, penis, or rectum if left untreated. Some medications can alleviate the symptoms, and warts can be frozen off or surgically removed; however, there is no cure for HPV.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the Elderly: Issues
As the average lifespan increases, senior patients will continue to challenge geriatric clinicians with symptoms of aging that share many of the same symptoms as STDs. What complicates the issue further is that clinicians and others commonly fail to connect symptoms to STDs in the elderly population at all. [ix]
Failing to treat STDs in the elderly can negatively affect their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, as well as create a financial hardship for treatment.
Here is a list of issues pertaining to sexually transmitted diseases in the elderly:
- Doctors sometimes fail to ask if seniors are sexually active
- Clinicians need to overcome communication barriers in discussing sexual risks with seniors
- Medication to enhance male sexual performance may increase risks of STDs in men
- Diminishing estrogen levels in senior women make them more susceptible to vaginal abrasions
- Weakened immune systems in both genders
- Shame and embarrassment may prevent seniors from talking about symptoms of STDs
Sexually Transmitted Infections and Older Adults: Recommendations
Today’s clinicians need to improve awareness and prevention efforts about STDs among the elderly. They need to do their best to open up communications about sexual activity in seniors and try to separate symptoms of aging from possible STD symptoms.
Today’s Geriatric Medicine makes the following recommendations:
- Heighten awareness of STDs in the elderly population
- Conduct regular STD screenings in seniors
- Gather a sexual history along with an examination
- Advise seniors that some questions may be of a personal or sensitive nature [ix]
- Stay current with best practices for STDs in the senior population
- Place a greater focus on early diagnosis and treatment
- Clinicians should be mindful that there may be higher incidences of STDs in the LGBT community
If you suspect that your parent is sexually active, care should be taken to discuss the potential of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. While this can be an uncomfortable subject to broach, leaving your parent at risk of contracting an STD can be detrimental to their health.
They may not know they have an STD and may be passing it their partner if they are having unprotected sex. Be sure your parent is aware of the risks of unprotected sex and how sexually transmitted diseases can be contracted.