Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) in the Elderly
Seniors are not often thought of as being at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). However, STDs do not discriminate by age and seniors are at times at even greater risk due to certain practices that increases the chances of an infection. Often these infections remain undiagnosed for long periods of time as the elderly are either embarrassed to seek medical attention or are unaware of the serious nature of some of the symptoms. It is important for the elderly to remember that if they are sexually active, they are also at risk of STDs irrespective of their age or that of their partner.
Why are seniors at greater risk?
Most seniors may not be as sexually active as their younger counterparts but are nevertheless having sexual contact if not regularly then at least on an infrequent basis. Despite less sexual contact, seniors may often be at greater risk of contacting STDs for one or more of the following reasons :
- Seniors may be less likely to use contraceptives like condoms since they are not concerned about unwanted pregnancies.
- Seniors are more likely to be having sexual contact with other seniors. The belief that other elderly people are less likely to be a risk may not compel them to use condoms.
- Older women are more likely to experience tiny tears in the vaginal wall during intercourse due to thinning of the tissue after menopause and vaginal dryness. This increases the chances of transmission of microbes responsible for these infections
- Age related changes in the immune system means that it is not as capable of fighting off infections as is the case in earlier life. It may also means that some of the very early symptoms which is due to the immune response to the presence of the microbes may not be as evident.
- Seniors rarely consider regular screening for STDs due to ignorance about the risk of contracting these infections later in life. They are therefore unaware that they have an infection and may pass it on unknowingly.
- Ignorance and embarrassment about sexually transmitted diseases may mean that seniors do not receive treatment and continue to have sexual contact thereby spreading the disease.
Dangers of STDs in the Elderly
While prevention is better than cure, most STDs can be effectively treated. However, with the risk in diseases like HIV/AIDS, seniors should rather be cautious, practice safe sex and avoid risky behavior so as not to contract any infection in the first place. All of these diseases when left untreated will run through a clinical course and eventually lead to complications some of which are potentially fatal. This will occur irrespective of the age of a person. In the elderly however, there is a greater danger with STDs for one or more of the following reasons :
- STDs may lead to complications faster due to a weaker immune system.
- STDs may affect the management of existing chronic conditions. Conversely the presence of pre-existing conditions may compromise the treatment of an STD.
- STDs or the treatment for it may increase the chances of developing certain diseases which may also be more likely to be seen in the elderly.
- STDs can significantly hamper the quality of life of any person but in the elderly this may be further exacerbated with the impact of pre-existing diseases and the effects of aging.