Madison Avenue has been telling us that 60 is the new 40, with a little help from drugs for baldness and erectile dysfunction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirm that our seniors are certainly an active bunch: Last year, it was reported that 24 percent of all AIDS cases were among senior citizens; about a decade ago that figure was only 7 percent. The rocking chair has been traded in for that little red corvette, with all the options.
Unfortunately, condoms are not coming along for the ride, and thus the spectrum of sexually transmitted disease (STD) is on the rise. The elderly, as do many of us, cannot help feeling some embarrassment about being evaluated for an STD, and so it is not surprising that one study found that 43 percent of widows and 21 percent of widowers had been diagnosed with an STD. Other factors responsible for the spread of disease include a higher divorce rate among older citizens, online dating sites, and of course medications such as Viagra and Cialis.
Condoms are not just to prevent pregnancy, but this rather obvious statement is not being internalized by a seeming majority of the older population. A study of single women aged 58 to 93 published by researchers at the University of Chicago found that almost 60 percent of them did not use a condom the last time they engaged in sexual intercourse. This is of major concern to the public health community, as infections that are left untreated can lead in some cases to dementia, pelvic inflammatory disease, and perhaps death.
Some of the recent health news might bring a queasy nostalgia to those who remember when syphilis and gonorrhea were once as dreaded as AIDS has been for the last 20 years: Last month, the CDC reported a rising incidence of drug-resistant gonorrhea in this country (such resistance had already been reported outside of the United States as early as 2007). To quote the CDC: "The emergence of gonococcal cephalosporin resistance would substantially limit available treatment options."
Sinatra once sang, "Love is lovelier the second time around". Some might not agree with that; one can conclude, however, that at this time it is certainly no safer.
The public health community needs to make a concerted effort to educate and inform the senior citizen community of the dangers of December-December romance. Perhaps this is one more instance where the elders can learn from the youngsters?
Or perhaps it is time to return to the days of the May-December romance.