It is frequently believed that when people get older their sex lives are finished and they lose interest in sex; in fact, if the person is physically able, they will be sexually active with their partners. The myths about sexuality amongst the older adult population often overshadow the common and serious issues that affect them and conflict with a healthy sex life. Although sex may not be considered a large aspect to the older adult population, contracting an STD is one matter that plagues the older adult population. One contributing factor is the lack of sexual education. Another issue negatively effecting older adults’ sex lives is conflicting health issues such as sexual dysfunction in both men and women. Numerous older adults find it difficult to disclose their sexual problems to their healthcare professionals, which prevent diagnosis and treatment of these problems. These two factors are indistinguishably linked to the contraction and transmission of sexual diseases and late prognosis of sexual related health issues.
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An exponential number of older adults lack sexual education. Actually, sex education was not a part of the typical scholastic curriculum during the foundational or college years of today’s older adults (Chris Rheaume, RN, BS, and Ethel Mitty, EdD, RN, 2008). Therefore, this proves that older adults lack knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases and do they know how to discuss their sexual health problems. Thus, they may dread talking about sexual matters with their health care providers. One indication of this absence of education or openness to discuss sexual issues is the growing rates of HIV/ AIDS prognoses in older adults. Eleven percent of AIDS cases reported were of persons over the age of 50 years old. Additionally, the diagnosis of the disease is slower, and its course is quicker. The solution is refining the sex education of older adults and increasing their willingness to disclose their sexual problems.
A healthy sex life starts with healthy sexual functions. For men, proper erectile function is imperative in having a healthy sex life. Many older men suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED); the contributing health conditions include, smoking and heart disease. Surgical treatment for prostate cancer is one of the results when ED goes untreated (Lynn McNicoll, MD, 2008).There are pharmaceutical and mechanical treatment alternatives to treat ED. For women, vaginal dryness and dyspareunia (pain with sexual intercourse) are factors in debilitating the desire for sex and occurrence in women. Alas, if patients are not comfortable disclosing these abnormalities, the condition will never get proper treatment.
Hesitation in seeking help for sexual dysfunction is commonly due to embarrassment. A study of patients with ED discovered that 78% did not discuss it with their health care provider (Abi Taylor, Margot A. Gosney, 2011). Additionally, 82% would have liked for the doctor to introduce the topic and initiate the conversation, and they would have felt less embarrassed. Women with urogenital atrophy noted that the reason why they did not seek professional help was embarrassment, feeling that they were the only ones experiencing the symptoms. A causative influence is older people’s mindset. A Finnish study displayed that while elderly people have an active, about half of the older people in the study thought that is was “inappropriate” for them to be sexually active. Meaning, older people are uncomfortable with talking about sex.
It is the responsibility of HCPs and nurses to encourage their patients to discuss their sexual issues and complications. One effective method is the PLISSIT model; this is used to evaluate sexuality and lead intervention in older adults ( Chris Rheaume, RN, BS, and Ethel Mitty, EdD, RN, 2008 ). PLISSIT is an acronym for Permission, Limited Information, Specific Suggestions, and Intensive Therapy. “Permission” is asking the individual’s permission to mention their sexual activity; this puts them in control, and it eliminates anxiety. Another component to this is giving assurance that their thoughts are normal; then, they become candid and comfortable with discussing their sexual illnesses. “Limited Information” gives patients knowledge of the anatomy and sexual functions; older adults misconceptions are being rectified. Furthermore, providing information includes discussion of illnesses and the effect of medicine on sexual activity. Specific suggestions incorporate concrete advice concerning arousal techniques. Subsequently, older patients will not feel as though being sexually active is not “proper” or “appropriate”. Intervention starts with the health care provider. Many HCPs are oblivious that their older patients are sexually active. Therefore, they must make it comfortable for the patient to disclose “embarrassing” sexual information with them. If the patient is confident, it makes it much easier for their sexual health problems to be treated.
In summary, sexuality is a key component of the quality of life for elderly persons. Older adults go through changes in their bodies’ sexually; however, they feel too anxious to reveal them to their nurse. Additionally, they lack sex education. By providing support and education to those patients it brings them closer to breaking the blockades to a healthy sex life.
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