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Sexuality is part of all stages of life, yet the topic of sexual health in seniors is often taboo. There are several factors contributing to the lack of openness for a healthy dialogue surrounding the subject. A study[1] titled, Sex for seniors: how physicians discuss older adult’s sexuality, found that physicians’ negative perceptions regarding sexual behavior later in life may affect their medical approach and cause seniors to be unforthcoming about their activities. This, in combination with the not only false but dangerous misconception that older people lack interest in sexual activities, may have led to the significant increase of sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates in recent years[2].

Health Risks for the Vulnerable

Long-term care and assisted living facilities are particularly at risk for STI transmission due to such a large number of people residing in close quarters. Some of the most common STIs include: 

  • Genital Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Chlamydia
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Gonorrhea
  • Genital Herpes
  • Syphilis
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

If left untreated, STIs can lead to serious health problems, including cervical cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease[3] and more. However, it is common that those with STIs are not even aware they have one due to lack of symptoms, and they continue to have sex and spread the infection. Even more worrying is that, according to one study, very few seniors express concern[4] about contracting STIs. 

Recognizing Senior Sexual Health Helps to Remove the Stigma

A major challenge for the administration and staff at many assisted living facilities is recognizing that their elderly residents are sexually active. Their highest priority is to create a safe and healthy environment, yet seniors are often participating in risky behavior due to a lack of normalization. According to the CDC, STIs have more than doubled in the past ten years among U.S. adults age 65 and older[5]. Anyone involved in the care of older patients should begin asking questions regarding sexual activities and provide easy access to education resources and testing processes. Testing offers the ability to quickly diagnose, properly treat and prevent a condition from worsening, thereby reducing the number of outbreaks due to transmission.

STI Panel: Testing Made Easy

Pandemic Response Lab (PRL) recognizes the importance of STI testing and aims to provide greater access to quality diagnostics that every senior deserves.

Incorporating STI testing and screening into regular patient care will not only improve healthcare for long-term care residents by minimizing co-infections and outbreaks, it will also open up the conversation on an often taboo topic. Seniors will feel more empowered and comfortable coming forward with any symptoms they may have or just to ask general sexual health questions. Contact PRL today to learn how you can integrate STI testing into your facility’s wellness program. 

 

[1] Sex for seniors: how physicians discuss older adult’s sexuality. Israel Journal of Health Policy Research. Published February 21, 2020 https://ijhpr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13584-020-00366-5Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan, Inbar Levkovich, Moshe Mock, Uri Gur, Khaled Karkabi & Liat Ayalon. The findings highlight a potential for differential treatment of older adults, based on age, rather than on other objective reasons. 

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Atlas Plus: HIV, Hepatitis, STD, TB, Social Determines of Health Data. [(accessed on 12 December 2019)]; 2018 Available online: https://gis.cdc.gov/grasp/nchhstpatlas/charts.html

[3] Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) disease-specific research. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/std-research. Published October 27, 2016. Accessed April 13, 2022. 

[4] Public Knowledge and Attitudes About Sexually Transmitted Infections: KFF Polling and Policy Insights. Consultant 360 Multidisciplinary Medical Information Network. Published December, 2012. https://www.consultant360.com/articles/sexually-transmitted-diseases-aging-population  Angela Purpora, FNP, APNP-BC Community Health Partnership Inc.

[5] Smith ML, Bergeron CD, Goltz HH, Coffey T, Boolani A. Sexually transmitted infection knowledge among older adults: Psychometrics and test–retest reliability. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020;17(7). doi:10.3390/ijerph17072462

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STIs in Senior Living Facilities: Are Residents at Risk?

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