Seniors and Sexual Health: What Older Adults Should Know

There’s no retirement age for desire.

By Lisa Esposito, Staff Writer March 16, 2016

Senior Couple Relaxing On Bed Smiling to Each Other

“Older adult women are very vital,” one expert says. “They continue to be orgasmic well into their 90s.”(GETTY IMAGES)

Older people have sex for the same reasons anyone else does: pleasure, intimacy, excitement, togetherness and fun. Some health concerns don’t change, like the need to practice safe sex. Physical limitations and medical conditions can pose challenges as people reach their 60s, 70s and 80s, but workarounds exist.

Whether you’re a baby boomer or beyond, you should feel comfortable talking to doctorsabout sex-related matters – and they should feel comfortable talking to you. And since sex starts in the mind, an open attitude and healthy dose of self-esteem can go a long way toward a satisfying sex life at any age.

What People Want

In 2014, the American Sexual Health Association collaborated on a survey of some 3,000 adults ages 40 to 74 who were in a committed relationship. Two-thirds said that their sex life influenced their overall satisfaction more than time spent on themselves or the quality of their friendships. And the majority said they felt happy and healthy when their sex life was healthy.

However, nearly half of those surveyed said they’d like to increase frequency of sex. While participants reported having sex an average of five times a month, men said they’d to prefer to have sex 10 times a month; for women, eight was the magic number.

“Based on survey responses, men and women had different priorities on improving sexual intimacy,” says Fred Wyand, director of communications for ASHA. “Women, for example, said their priorities were improving the ability to have an orgasm, emotional bonding with their partners and just a general enjoyment of sex.”

“Men were much more likely to focus on the physical ability to have sex, where the functioning aspect was more important to guys,” Wyand says. “And also being able to experiment and try new things.”

STDs at Any Age

Older isn’t necessarily wiser when it comes to preventing sexually transmitted diseases. Condom use for vaginal intercourse is lowest among the oldest adults, according to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, conducted by Indiana University researchers. Among adults age 61 and older who were surveyed, only 5.1 percent of men and 7.4 percent of women used condoms during recent sex.

“Part of it is because for older people, the sexual-health disaster of their generation was an unwanted pregnancy,” Wyand says. “They may not be thinking about protection when in fact seniors are just as susceptible to STDs as anybody else.”

It’s not surprising that seniors are less aware of the risks. “If you go to an STD clinic and look at the brochures around AIDS or around chlamydia and gonorrhea, they don’t have people with wrinkles and gray hair on the front of those brochures,” Wyand says. “And they need to.”

Health care providers who prescribe erectile dysfunction drugs to older men and topical hormones and vaginal lubricants to women after menopause don’t always counsel them on safe sex and STD precautions.

Older women should feel empowered to talk to their partners about safer sex, Wyand says, and insist on condom use if they want it. The female condom is another option, he notes. “That’s something we don’t talk about a lot, but it’s a woman-controlled barrier method of contraception.”

Obstacles and Options

It’s undeniable that seniors can face certain challenges to a satisfying sex life. “Chronic illness is one of the leading problems, especially for older adults,” says Sallie Foley, a sex therapist, sex educator and sex therapy supervisor. Diabetes, prostate surgery after cancer, severe arthritis, memory issues or a partner’s dementia can all affect someone’s sex life. Heart disease and medications to treat them may have sex-related side effects.

Older men with erectile issues should talk to their physicians about solutions, says Foley, who teaches in the University of Michigan graduate school of social work and is the director of the University of Michigan Sexual Health Certificate Program. Doctors may be able to substitute for certain medications that can cause problems with erections.

Anyone who’s ever turned on a TV knows about erectile dysfunction pills like Viagra and Cialis. But men may not know about self-injection drugs for ED, which can produce better erections than pills, Foley says. The short-needle injection, given in the shaft of the penis, causes no more discomfort than a similar injection in the upper arm, she adds.

Late or delayed ejaculation is a bigger problem, Foley says, with fewer ready solutions. Fatigue can be part of the cause, she says, along with neurologic issues due to chronic illness.

When people are distressed about their sex lives, it’s time to seek professional help, she says, starting with a doctor who’s comfortable talking about sex.

gynecologist can help women with sexual problems related to menopause. A urologistcan determine the causes for men’s sexual issues, while a sex therapist can help couples find ways to work around any limitations and continue to enjoy sex. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists can help you locate a specialist in your area.

Time and Space to Relax

Juggling multiple career and family responsibilities can cramp people’s sex lives, Foley says. She’s heard from people in their 60s and 70s who want to enjoy sex in a relaxed, private atmosphere, but they can’t get their millennial kids out of the basement, and they’re caring for their 94-year-old mother-in-law who’s living upstairs.

People in their 60s and 70s don’t have as much physical energy in reserve as young or middle-aged adults, Foley says, and they’re more vulnerable to fatigue. “So they have to take good care of their bodies, and that requires time,” she says. “A lot of times, the first thing to go is time for pleasurable sex. People in their 40s can actually push through fatigue much easier than people in their 70s can.”

Maturity Pluses

In some ways, sexuality can improve once a woman is done with menopause. “Postmenopausal women feel a kind of surge of energy,” Foley says, sometimes described as “postmenopausal zest.” With menopause out of the way, she says, energy returns along with a new ease of attitude. “Women often feel like, ‘This is the body I’m in. I’m not going to try to get into 3-inch stilettos anymore. And I’m comfortable with who I am,’” she says.

That’s consistent with what’s seen among long-term, older couples, Foley says: “Even though their bodies have changed, they’re much more interested in the engagement and vitality people bring to life when they’re in their 60s and 70s.”

The extent of certain changes from aging, such as hormonal shifts, can be overstated. “There’s a tendency to dwell on that,” Foley says, noting that if a woman still has her ovaries, she continues to make testosterone well into her 80s. “Older adult women are very vital,” she says. “They continue to be orgasmic well into their 90s.”

Moving Past Misconceptions

Negative cultural stereotypes can inhibit sexuality for some older women, Foley says. “They sometimes withdraw from enjoying their bodies, getting dressed in the clothes they like, enjoying life,” she says. For older women who want to find partners but don’t feel desirable, she says, “If they can get into counseling and get into exercise so they can feel strong and good in their bodies, they usually increase their self-esteem.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about older adults is that they lack passion, Foley says. “Some people have had this extraordinary long-term partnership where they remain very passionate,” she says. “And other people who are widowed or divorced, when they fall in love and they’re in their 70s or their 80s, they feel the same way as people who fall in love in their 20s. They’re gaga for the person. And their sex is great.”

We’re on the precipice of numerous new dementia diagnoses that family members across the country will need to address.

By Ann Norwich, Contributor June 26, 2017, at 6:00 a.m.

When a loved one starts to lose his or her memory, it can be a struggle for the entire family. The person who has been the head of the family may soon fade from the person they once were, leaving their loved ones to wonder what will come next.

Making this time even harder to handle are the numerous questions that suddenly become urgent. Do they have a will? Who has power of attorney to make decisions on their behalf? Does anyone know what is important to them? What is their full life story

Far too often, families end up in this situation without anything on paper regarding their loved one’s final wishes. Talking about dementia is perceived to be so taboo that medical professionals often don’t discuss it with their patients. There’s a stigma that a diagnosis of dementia will lead to a person being treated differently, and consequently, many are left not knowing their diagnosis.

People might even hide their own struggles with memory, leaving little time to answer the important questions until it’s too late. An individual’s quality of life is vastly improved when these questions are settled and their family has the invaluable peace of mind of knowing their loved one’s wishes.

As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, we’re on the precipice of numerous new dementia diagnoses that family members across the country will need to address. Instead of reinforcing the long-standing stigma, we must instead meet it head-on by asking five important questions.

  1. What are the signs of dementia? Surprisingly, forgetting names of people is not a sign of dementia. Mixing up names of objects, however, is. For a more complete list of signs, check the Alzheimer’s Association’s website.
  2. Does my loved one have dementia? Once you’re familiar with the early signs, consider your loved one’s behaviors. Were they once a social butterfly who has closed themselves off from the outside world? Do they have trouble answering questions like “Where are you?” Do they deflect and make a joke when they can’t answer a question? Do they put ice cream in the oven instead of the freezer? All these behaviors are signs of cognitive impairment. Some might appear obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy for people to hide their mental lapses by telling a story instead of answering your questions.
  3. What do they want for their future? Upon a diagnosis of dementia, it becomes crucial to plan as soon as possible. Commit everything to paper while your loved one is still able to make their wishes known. Palliative care professionals can assist patients and their families in making these choices, such as who will make decisions on their behalf when they are no longer able. There are also financial advisors who specialize in elder care and can assist in estate planning and allocating assets to pay for an assisted living facility or in-home extended care.
  4. What’s their life story? It can help a person with dementia stay cognizant if they’re asked to recount their lives. Journaling or recording a video diary can also help a family bond and commit their history to a tangible form. Every family has wonderful stories that are worth preserving, and laying out the narrative of their lives can help someone with dementia maintain their faculties a bit longer. It also helps them feel valued when being ignored is one of the biggest fears associated with a diagnosis of dementia.
  5. How do they want to be treated? A major contributor to the stigma of dementia is the fear that a diagnosis will lead to a change in social status and how someone is treated. As a caregiver, I always approach a patient first when I enter the room. I make eye contact with them as well as physical contact such as touching their shoulder or shaking their hand. I ask as many questions as possible of the patient themselves to convey that they, my patient, are at the core of everything we’re doing.

Dear Friends and Members of NOCSC:

This is just a reminder that June is National Elder Abuse Awareness Month and as such NOCSC is hosting two special events:

1) the 11th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day event on Saturday 17 June .  If you are a non-profit agency and would like to have an Exhibitor Table, please make sure that I have your Sign-Up sheet and your organization’s logo.  We will also have a Table available for our for-profit organizations where you can leave a small sample of your information.  We are asking our exhibitors (both for-profit and non-profit) if possible, to provide a $20+ Raffle Prize as well, and you may bring that to the Event on Saturday the 17th;

2) the next NOCSC Educational Forum for Professionals is on Tuesday, 20 June at 8:30 a.m. entitled, “Identifying and Fighting Financial Abuse on Seniors” and there will be more information soon on this event!; and

3) As an extra Bonus, we are also hoping to have the new 2017-2018 NOCSC Senior Resource Guide ready to begin passing out at both of these events!  Please pass on this important information to your clients and contact lists!

Dear Members and Friends of NOCSC:

Just a reminder of next week’s NOCSC All Member / General Meeting next Tuesday, 16 May 2017 at 8:30 a.m. is the May All Member General NOCSC meeting and we will be discussing:

  • The 11th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day event in Buena Park on Saturday, 17 June 

  • While the WEAAD Table Space will be limited to non-profits and government organizations, we will have a NOCSC Table that will be available for our for-profit members to place a limited number of their agency brochures on.  Please note that space will be very limited, but will be available to members;

  • The 2017-2018 Senior Resource Guide including new edits and inclusions;

  • The 2017 Senior Unmet Needs Survey ~ and possible themes to cover;

  • New location and time options to hold the “Senior Resources 101” class;

  • And other concerns and issues as well.