STDs Escalating in the Over-50 Crowd

According to an article in the November/December issue of the journal MEDSURG Nursing, rates of HIV/AIDS, herpes, syphilis, human papilloma virus (HPV), and other STDs are climbing steadily in this age group. But the news gets worse: thanks to ageism and social stigmas, these diseases arent really on healthcare providers radar screens.

Unfortunately, the common misconception still persists that people over 50 are no longer sexually active, writes co-authors Lisa Jeffers and Mary DiBartolo. As a result, healthcare providers often do not discuss risky sexual behaviors and STD prevention with middle-aged and older adults.

Delayed treatment can wreak havoc with patients health and cause serious complications and even death, Jeffers and DiBartolo explain. Early diagnosis increases the chances for a quick cure in many cases, they say, and also keeps costs down.

As far as incidence, most of the research has focused on HIV/AIDS, with rates in the over-50 age group living with the disease jumping from 17 percent in 2001 to 24 percent in 2005.

For other STDs, an annual 2004-05 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report showed the following number of cases for people over 40 per 100,000 population:

- Syphilis up from 4.0 to 4.8 individuals

- Chlamydia rose from 33.4 to 37

- Gonorrhea increased from 40.9 to 45.1

Jeffers and DeBartolo say some experts believe this age group is more sexually active than previous generations thanks to popular erectile dysfunction medications and hormone replacement. Other experts cite baby boomers more liberal sexual attitudes. Divorce rates have also swelled, so more people over 50 are single again; in fact, the boomers now compose 20 percent of online daters.

Several steps are urgently needed to stem the STD wave, Jeffers and DeBartolo say. Health care professionals first need to open the lines of communication with patients by increasing their comfort level in discussing sensitive sexual matters, then educating them about risks. In addition, providers should do thorough physical assessments and screening tests, especially for HIV.

Initiatives should be developed to assist older adults in coping with a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS and other STDs, the authors write. Support networks could help them on a personal level, and government agencies, insurance companies, senior organizations like AARP, and communities should promote awareness by including STD facts in newsletters and other publications.