Safe sex message lost on over 50s?
GROWING rates of sexually transmitted diseases among older people are placing a new burden on the health system.
However, according to researchers at the University of New England, “sexual ageism” is preventing health authorities from making the necessary investment in education and prevention strategies.
Lead researcher Professor Victor Minichiello said societies around the world needed a new approach for a new generation of seniors.
“Recently published Australian figures reveal that the number of chlamydia cases in people over the age of 50 doubled between 2004 and 2010, and figures from abroad show similar trends in the incidence of a range of sexually transmissible infections, including HIV, in older people,” he said.
“Social and familial attitudes and fear of professional judgement often prevent older people from seeking sexual health support, thus the silenced remain silent and the rates continue to rise.”
Professor Minichiello said the sexual health message needed for a 60-year-old was very different to that you would deliver to an adolescent.
He told a World HIV/AIDS symposium that in Sweden 68 per cent of men and 56 per cent of women were still sexually active at 70, and in the United States 20 per cent of people aged 80-94 were still sexually active.
“This level of sexual activity in older people, together with a general lack of awareness within this age group about sexually transmissible infections, is generating an increasing prevalence of these infections in older populations around the world,” he said.
“There is evidence of this phenomenon in the United States, the UK, Australia, Canada, Korea, Singapore, China, Kenya, Botswana and Uganda.”
Professor Minichiello said his own research had revealed low levels of condom use among older people in Australia, which added to the urgency of calls for action.
“This would involve recognition of the sexual life of older people by society in general and health professionals in particular, and the introduction of targeted sexual health education programs for older people,” he said.
“If we do nothing we’ll see a significant increase in the incidence of these infections in older people, at enormous cost to the health care system.”