When we hear the word “sex,” seniors aren’t typically the first demographic that comes to mind. But the reality is that relationships and sex are an important part of quality of life, health, and well-being for seniors. Here’s a closer look at recent research about sex and seniors, along with what it means for caregivers.
Seniors and Sex: The Research Is In
According to the University of Michigan’s latest National Poll on Healthy Aging, romantic relationships matter—regardless of age. In fact, a full 76 percent of adults between ages 65 and 80 said that sex was an important part of a romantic relationship.
However, the research also indicates that as people age, they experience a decline in sexual activity: While 46 percent of 56- to 70-year-olds reported being sexually active, this number dropped to 39 percent for 71- to 75-year-olds and fell even further for 75- to 80-year-olds to 25 percent. Within each of these age groups, men were more likely to report that sex was important, along with being more likely to be interested in sex.
According to AARP senior vice president of research Alison Bryant, the survey confirms that “the need for and interest in sexual intimacy doesn’t stop at a certain age.” The good news? An impressive 73 percent of seniors indicated that they were satisfied with their sex lives.
Let’s Talk About Sex
The report also highlights the need for more open conversations about sex with seniors. Said poll co-director Erica Solway, “Sexual health among older adults doesn’t get much attention but is linked closely with quality of life, health and well-being. It’s important for older adults and the clinicians who care for them to talk about these issues and about how age-related changes in physical health, relationships, lifestyles and responsibilities such as caregiving, affect them.”
Unfortunately, just 17 percent of respondents reported speaking with their doctors about their sexual health over the previous two-year period. And just 18 percent and three percent of men and women, respectively, took medication to improve sexual function despite the fact that more than three-quarters felt that they were helpful.
Talking about sex with your aging loved one may not be at the top of your list of things you’d like to do. However, it’s important for several reasons. Not only are STDs on the rise among the elderly, but open lines of communication can be essential to helping seniors enjoy better and fuller lives. Furthermore, untreated sex problems can be associated with other health issues, including everything from cancer to depression. It’s also important for caregivers and other loved ones to know that dementia can be accompanied by changes in sexuality and intimacy.
Tips for Talking About Sex
All of which begs the question: Are there any things caregivers can do to make the conversation easier? Nidhi Gulati, a family medicine physician at Augusta University Health and medical director of the Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home, told Your Health Today, “To discuss delicate topics, first ask if you can engage in the topic, normalize it, and then stress confidentiality. You should have an accepting attitude and don’t assume; then begin to discuss safe sex and counsel.”
One last thing to keep in mind? While sex in aging is normal, if your loved one’s decision-making capacity is diminished, he/she may need help. Still, cautions, Gulati, “Don’t impose or be controlling. It’s important to realize that the roles are not reversed—you as your aging loved one’s child or grandchild aren’t the parent or grandparent now.”
mmLearn.org offers a large library of free caregiver training videos, covering topics pertaining to senior care, including more information on senior sexuality and difficult sexual behaviors. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmLearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs. Access our free online caregiver video library today.