More and more people over the age of 50 are being diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections – a development that has a medical journal urging doctors to be more vigilant when treating older patients.
The Student BMJ, an international journal published for medical students, says doctors need to ensure that when they are diagnosing older individuals, they aren’t ruling out sexually transmitted infections based on age alone.
“Sexually transmitted infections are not high on your list of differential diagnoses – but increasing evidence indicates that they should be,” as cases of common infections have more than doubled in people aged 50 to 90 years old, the editorial says.
According to one study, 80 per cent of the people in that age group are sexually active.
One of the authors of the editorial, Rachel von Simson, a medical student at King’s College London, said in an email that despite the dramatic rise in infections, there isn’t enough awareness and more education is necessary.
Von Simson says that it shouldn’t be more difficult to educate older adults.
“Whilst we have a huge evidence base on what works to educate young people about sex and sexually transmitted infections and we have had lots of campaigns over the years dedicated towards them, we don’t have any evidence base on what will work with older adults,” she said.
“If all the campaigns older adults see are targeted at young adults, it is not surprising that they might take from that that they are not at risk.”
At the Calgary Sexual Health Centre a program called Seniors A GoGo is helping bring the message to older people in the city, according to the centre’s spokeswoman.
Pam Krause said that through monologues on sexuality led by seniors and education seminars, Seniors A GoGo is able to educate people who may not have had sex ed when they were in school.
“The first year what was interesting was (the seniors) talked about sexuality in a really, really broad way about it being about relationships and love and not being lonely,” Krause said.
“Then the seniors themselves said the second year, ‘I think we actually need to kick it up a notch.’ ”
From there the sessions for Seniors A GoGo involved discussions about condoms and the dangers of unprotected sex.
“It’s funny, but it is shocking sometimes how uncomfortable people when thinking about older adults and sexuality. So there’s this immediate barrier,” Krause said.
“You can talk to youth about a lot of stuff . . . but as soon as you address anything with older adults, for whatever reason our culture is ill prepared to deal with the fact that people over 50” are still having sex, she said.
Krause said that previously there were few resources for seniors making the transition after the death of a spouse or after moving into a seniors’ home. Seniors A GoGo helps by opening up a conversation with experts and other seniors so they get the right information.
Practicing safe sex is especially important for older people because of their general decline in immunity, von Simson said.
If more seniors are aware of the consequences of STIs and more doctors are on the lookout for them, the infections can be caught earlier and are less likely to cause serious harm.
Von Simson said that more research is required so that the medical community can get a better handle on STI rates in older people, and how they can be better educated.