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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the older adult population: why is there a growing concern?

The growth of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among the older adult population is a concerning health issue. According to the Center for Disease Control, prevalence of STDs more than doubled between 2008 and 2018 for men and women of ages 65 and older.1 STDs, also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are spread primarily through sexual contact. Common STDs found among older adults include herpes, chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, and the human papillomavirus (HPV). The ease of sexual transmission and the potential for asymptomatic carriers make controlling the spread of these diseases challenging. Why are STDs more prevalent than before among seniors today? While the prevalence of STDs tends to be lower in older age groups compared to younger populations, there are several reasons why STDs can still be common in older adults.

  • Older adults may believe that they are no longer at risk for STDs because of their age, leading to a false sense of security.

  • Stigma surrounding STDs and a lack of awareness that these diseases are treatable contributes to poor communication about sexual health between partners.

  • Increased life expectancy means that many older adults remain sexually active well into their later years.

  • Some older adults may have re-entered the dating scene after divorce or the loss of a spouse, leading to new sexual partnerships and potential exposure to STDs.

  • The popularity of online dating apps for older adults has made it easier for older adults to meet new partners and engage in sexual activity with individuals they may not know well.

  • Advances in medical treatments, such as medication for erectile disfunction for men or hormone replacement therapy for women, have allowed older individuals to continue to engage in sexual activity at later stages in life.

  • Older adults may be less likely to use condoms or other barrier methods consistently or correctly during sexual activity, increasing the risk of STD transmission.

  • People with one STD may be more susceptible to acquiring other STDs, increasing the complexity of diagnosis and treatment.

Health Complications STDs can cause a wide range of health complications, from uncomfortable symptoms to severe and life-threatening conditions. Some STDs can lead to chronic diseases, cancer, and even death if left untreated, so it is important to screen regularly if sexually active. For example, syphilis, if left untreated, can result in tertiary syphilis, which can affect the nervous system, leading to neurosyphilis. Symptoms may include cognitive impairment, behavioral changes, loss of coordination, muscle weakness, vision problems, and paralysis. Some STDs, like HIV, can lead to a lifetime of medical management, including antiretroviral therapy. Unfortunately, an STD diagnosis can impact an individual's quality of life and overall well-being.



STDs often have social implications They can lead to strained relationships, particularly when partners are unaware of their STD status or symptoms or when there is a lack of communication about sexual health. People with STDs often face social stigma and discrimination, which can deter them from seeking testing and treatment for their symptoms. This stigma can also lead to anxiety and depression in older adults, leading to further health complications. STD Prevention Methods Preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is crucial for maintaining sexual health and reducing the risk of transmission. So, what are the best strategies for prevention of STDs among older adults and for providing care?

  • Safe Sex Education. Promoting safe sex practices and regular STD testing is crucial for older adults.

  • Safer Sex Practice. Condoms create a barrier that prevents direct contact between bodily fluids, reducing the risk of infection. Condoms should be used for every sexual encounter.

  • Regular Check-Ups. Seniors should include discussions about sexual health during routine healthcare visits.

  • STD Testing and Screening. Regular STD testing and screening are essential, especially if you are sexually active or have multiple sexual partners. This allows for early detection.

  • Vaccination. Encouraging older adults to receive vaccines like the HPV vaccine can help protect against certain infections.

  • Partner Communication. Open and honest communication with sexual partners about STDs and testing is essential.

  • STD Treatment. If diagnosed with an STD, older adults should seek treatment and follow medical advice.

It's important to recognize that sexual health remains relevant in later life, and older individuals should not assume they are immune to STDs. Open dialogue with healthcare providers, partners, and comprehensive sexual health education can help the older adult population protect itself from STDs and maintain a healthy and fulfilling sex life while minimizing risks. At Carta Health, we are working toward making a difference in people’s lives. Our goal is to ensure people have the latest healthcare information to feel empowered and take charge of their own health. Visit www.carta.health or contact Carta at info@carta.health to learn more about our active involvement in providing state-of-the-art health screening services in the comfort of your home. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Atlas Plus: HIV, Hepatitis, STD, TB, Social Determines of Health Data. [(accessed on 21 September 2023)]; 2018 Available online: https://gis.cdc.gov/grasp/nchhstpatlas/charts.html

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