I met a gentleman at a social event recently who asked me what I did for a living. A detailed and accurate answer would be: “I’m the author of a very well received book on Eldercare, a senior services business owner, and Eldercare expert who works with Caregivers to better care for their loved ones while taking care of themselves, their families and their careers.” But, saying all of that sounds pompous (and simply takes too long). So normally I just say, “I’m in the eldercare space.”
Usually, the conversation goes one of two ways after that. Either the person immediately tells me about their personal eldercare challenges – which is a fairly common response since 1 in 3 U.S. adults is a caregiver to an elderly person – or, their eyes glaze over and they immediately change the topic. This time, I received a response that fit squarely into the first category.
The gentleman immediately started telling me about his favorite 86-year-old uncle who contracted anSTD while living in an Alabama nursing home. Evidently, he and his family had several theories about how he contracted the disease. His colorfully detailed, profanity laced retelling of all the theories were so funny I could barely bring myself to tell him that they were all likely wrong (or at least, not fully informed). Eventually, my professionalism overwhelmed my desire to keep laughing and I explained the realities of seniors and STDs.
STDs in the elderly on the rise
STD transmission among the elderly is, unfortunately, a common and growing problem. For example, between 2007 and 2011, chlamydia infections among Americans 65 and over increased by 31 percent, and syphilis by 52 percent.
Most caregivers are surprised because they never imaged sexually transmitted diseases to be one of the many issues they could encounter when caring for an elderly loved one. After hearing the bad news the caregiver’s first question is usually, “How did this happen?”?
The reality is your college-aged daughter on spring break and your grandmother in the nursing home should each be equally worried about catching chlamydia from the guy (or the grandfather) next door.
A more detailed examination of “why” runs the gamut from the simple to the complex:
- Men using erectile dysfunction drugs engaging in sex with post-menopausal women (without fear of pregnancy) can increase unprotected risky sex
- Significantly fewer older men are available, so women in an effort to please (and keep) a partner have risky unprotected sex
- Older people are now using online dating and thus are relatively unfamiliar with their partners and their sexual histories
- Many of today’s “Baby Boomers” came to maturity during the sexual revolution of the 1960s/1970s and are now reverting back to their previous risky sexual behavior
- A lot of seniors were already married when sex education gained prominence and therefore missed the “safe sex” talks and never learned “safe sex etiquette”
- As people age their immune systems tend to weaken making them more susceptible to contracting ANY disease – including STDs
- Seniors, because of embarrassment, are less likely to discuss sexual issues with their doctors – which can further lead to the spread of STDs
- Many doctors don’t think to test seniors for STDs as a standard examination protocol
Stopping the spread of STDS in the elderly
Individually or in combination, the reasons above can lead to the spread of STDs amongst seniors. In the short term, what’s more important than why STDs are spreading is what needs to be done to slow or stop the progression. Here are a few quick thoughts:
- Seniors should be getting the same basic “safe sex” education as young people (learning about STDs and how to recognize the signs, how they can complicate other existing chronic medical conditions, and most importantly the proper use of condoms)
- Doctors should inquire about sexual activity with seniors as they do with teenagers and younger adults
- Information on detection and treatment options need to be well publicized to aging populations (e.g., Medicare provides free STD screenings and low cost treatments)
- Distribute free condoms in places where seniors live and congregate
Whatever the reason or the chosen solution, the critical first step is having a conversation with your loved one and educating them on the dangers of having unprotected sex.
After years of consulting, providing professional advice and caring for the elderly, Derrick Y. McDaniel, a recognized expert in the eldercare industry, an attorney and former NYU professor, has composed a resource tool to help everyone who cares for their aging loved ones. Eldercare, The Essential Guide to Caring for Your Loved One and Yourself is a book that answers all the tough care giving questions that most people do not know to ask. Visit MrEldercare101.com for more information.