STDs are on the rise among older Americans, prompting an increased emphasis on treatment and prevention for this population.
An Orlando Sentinel analysis of data provided by CDC found that reports of syphilis and chlamydia among those age 55 and older increased by 43 percent from 2005 to 2009. The spike in the two STDs during these years was even more pronounced in communities with large numbers of retirees: 87 percent in Maricopa and Pima counties in Arizona; 60 percent in South Florida.
Experts cite multiple factors for the rise, including healthier seniors living longer lives and socializing more; medications like Viagra and hormone-replacement therapy, which facilitate sex; and the fact that most older people missed out on the safe-sex messages directed at the young. A study by Indiana University researchers found that US men age 50 and older reported the lowest levels of condom use.
Joanne Williams, director of the Baltimore County Department of Aging, oversees 20 senior centers and takes a proactive approach to STD prevention. Her agency receives health education funding from the state, and she dedicates a portion of the money to promoting safe sex and STD testing.
Anna Fowlkes works to get the word out, too. Five years ago, the 64-year-old Baltimore widow and grandmother tested positive for HIV. Today, she shares her experiences with groups of seniors and shows a brief video she produced, entitled “Senior Dating: Older, Wiser, Safer.”
Experts say physicians need to move beyond their assumptions about their older patients’ sex lives. “Removing age-based profiling with respect to STD screenings is a good idea,” said Dr. Stacey Lindau, a University of Chicago OB-GYN and the author of a New England Journal of Medicine study on sex and senior citizens.
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