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Sexuality is an important part of health and quality of life at all ages and thus is an important area for health-care providers to address. The number of years of potential sexual activity in later life is increasing. There are both physical and emotional aspects to sexuality, and the desire for intimacy continues throughout life. Studies have shown that most older adults desire more activity than what they have. Lack of partners and lack of privacy are significant obstacles for sexual expression. The physiological changes with age alone are insufficient cause to cease sexual activity, and for some these changes are felt to enhance their sexual activity. A number of medical conditions contribute to sexual dysfunction and raise patient concerns regarding health consequences of sexual activity. For older adults, negotiating safer sex may be unfamiliar and challenging, they lack knowledge to identify HIV/AIDS risk factors, and they are less likely to use condoms. Health-care providers lack awareness of seniors’ sexuality, fail to engage in conversations about risks, and are less likely to test for the virus. As with many potentially sensitive issues, it appears that patients are waiting for their health-care providers to raise the topic.
Sexuality is an important part of health and quality of life at all ages. Misinformation and misperceptions about sexuality and older adults are held by both patients and clinicians. Failure to adequately address sexuality and diagnose and treat sexual problems can have significant consequences, including depression, social withdrawal, and increased risk for sexually transmitted infections. The physiological changes with age alone are insufficient cause to cease sexual activity, and for some these changes are felt to enhance their sexual activity. Medical conditions and their treatments may negatively alter one’s perception of body image, create preoccupation with concern about exacerbation of symptoms, reduce exercise tolerance, and limit flexibility and positions of comfort. Patients desire informed health care providers who openly discuss sexuality and offer a variety of management approaches.
Sexuality is an important part of health and quality of life and thus is an important area for health care providers to address. Although much has been written about sexuality in adolescence and adults, relatively little information regarding sexuality in older populations is available. With the aging of the baby boom generation, different attitudes and mores regarding sexuality are coming forward as a result of growing up in the “free love” generation. In time, discussion of sexuality with older adults is anticipated to be more direct, open, and often initiated by well-informed patients.
At this time a number of fallacies regarding sexuality later in life prevail. Many prefer to believe that sexuality in older adults simply does not exist. Brogran notes, “there is a general societal belief that old people are, or should be, asexual and a false assumption exists that physical attractiveness depends on youth and beauty.” Alternatively, sexuality in older adults is considered a laughing matter. Comical cards and ones on old age often give messages about physical weakness and failures in sexual performance. Sexuality in older adults is sometimes seen as something distasteful or disgusting with references to “dirty old men” and “lecherous old women.” Although often these fallacies of sexuality are held by youthful members of society, perhaps just as often they are believed by older adults themselves. It becomes apparent that the health care providers' involvement in promoting health and well-being of older adults through discussions of sexuality is often hindered by misinformation and misperceptions.
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