STDs are rising among U.S. seniors, prompting health experts to increase safe-sex education among this demographic.
Local officials like Mary Jay, disease-intervention specialist at the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, believe most seniors have never been targeted with messages about the importance of safe sex. "The gay male population got the message of using protection," on account of the AIDS epidemic, she said. "But culturally, [HIV] has not taken the same toll in the heterosexual population."
Jerry Kerr, HIV prevention coordinator of northwest Ohio, said cultural mores can hinder even those seniors who understand the importance of safe sex. "Don't assume anything about your partner. Go get tested. If you don't do that, [use] a condom," he urged. "We encourage people to examine their priorities and put their health above any embarrassment."
Another problem is the misperception by many, including some health care providers, that seniors are not sexually active. Dr. Murthy Gokula, a geriatrician and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Toledo Medical Center, cited information from the guide "Reichel's Care of the Elderly" indicating that 71 percent of men and 51 percent of women age 60 and older are sexually active.
"Doctors think it's not important to talk about sexual activity," said Gokula, who also is director of St. Luke's Hospital Geriatrics Fellowship Program. "I teach medical students to ask that question." Sexual activity inquiries "should be a screening question for all geriatric physicians; [however] only about 10 percent to 12 percent [of doctors] ask," he noted.
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